15th April, 2011 will forever be known as one of the most pivotal days the gaming world has seen. On this day, also known as ‘Black Friday’, online poker experienced one of its most influential days as Absolute Poker, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars were indicted in co-ordination with a federal investigation into allegations of fraud and money laundering.
The US Department of Justice officially announced the defendants of the investigation as Raymond Bitar, Brent Beckley, Nelson Burtnick, Isai Scheinberg, Scott Tom, Ryan Lang, Paul Tate, Ira Rubin, Bradley Franzen, John Campos and Chad Elie. As these names were released, confidence in the US online poker market waned.
Fall out of the investigation was instant. Tournaments sponsored by those sites involved were cancelled. ESPN withdrew advertising and programs relating to all poker except for the WSOP. The three sites involved were immediately shut down until further notice with millions of member accounts frozen.
Even up to the last few days, the negative consequences on the industry have been felt with Wynn Resorts withdrawing their involvement with PokerStars in light of the investigation. Things could not have been much more frustrating for the industry.
It wasn't long before the professional players were giving their views. Some joked that the lack of online play might encourage players to seek the live tables and then they could experience the game how it should really be played. It felt like the majority of professional players were trying to find a positive spin and felt it would give them an opportunity to head back to their live table roots. Pros such as Daniel Negreanu and Doyle Brunson were all affected by the investigation as it impacted on the entire gambling community.
However, a shining light for the indicted companies came on 20th April when Full Tilt and PokerStars were handed back their domains to allow members access to their accounts. This gave the sites players peace of mind knowing that they could access their money and withdraw their funds.
Ironically, good news came from the European side of the Atlantic as it was revealed that the European online poker industry was experiencing a slight boost in revenue due to players flocking in their droves to the European casinos.
Further positive news arrived this week as Steve Wynn and other leading casino tycoons stated intent to push their land-based casinos into the online domain should online gambling become legal in the US. Some big players in the casino trade have been putting pressure on the US government to legalize online gambling due to the revenue it could bring in. The casino bosses also believe that with Absolute, Full Tilt and PokerStars suffering, there is a void that they have left in the market that needs to be filled.
The bottom line is that in all this negativity and uncertainty a beacon of hope has been lit. Sometimes the best can prevail from adversity. Black Friday was a day that will remain notorious in the eyes of the gambling world but it can also be seen as the day when the phoenix rose from the flames and it could turn out that Black Friday ultimately proves to be the day when online gambling discovered its true potential. It might come at the sacrifice of three of the leading US sites but if it leads to the legalization of online gambling, it will be a sacrifice many will deem worthwhile.