Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guess the casino, #836

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Excalibur

Friday, April 22, 2011

Guess the casino, #835

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Treasure Island

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Press release from Absolute Poker

A lot of people seemed worried when we had the announcements from PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker that U.S. players would be getting full refunds and they were diligently working on the mechanisms to make that happen, but there was no such press release from AbsolutePoker. Today, fortunately, that deficiency has been corrected, with the release of this official statement:


As you no doubt have heard by now, our company is one of three under indictment on various trumped-up federal charges. We deny each and every allegation, and look forward to our day in court so that we can redeem our good name, which has been unfairly besmirched by these scandalous charges.

The U.S. Attorney's office has obtained court orders freezing our bank accounts. Nevertheless, they have given us permission to access such accounts to the extent necessary to refund to our United States players any funds that they had deposited and/or won.

We are here to tell you this: Don't hold your breath.

After all, you all knew that our primary business model is to use our insider access to look at your hole cards while we play against you, right? You could probably guess from that one simple fact that we're really not so much into the whole "give the money back" thing.

The guys at Full Tilt and PokerStars are probably worried about their reputations in the rest of the world; as they don't want players everywhere else to lose confidence and do panic withdrawals, they probably will do everything they can to get you your money back, just as they say they will.

Us, not so much.

You see, we understand that our players sent us their money even after they knew that we were a lying, cheating, dishonest, scummy, criminal enterprise. Since they will do that, we see no need to try to falsely appear like we're an honorable, do-the-right-thing kind of outfit. They already know better. Heck, they might even be disappointed in us if we took the so-called "high road" on this.

But you want to know the best part? We think that if you are stupid enough to have given us your money even after you knew perfectly well that we were cheaters and thieves, there's a good chance that when we can get back into the U.S. market, you'll give us more money even after we confiscate for ourselves what you've currently got on account here! Ha!

See you later--SUCKERS!


Your Friends at AbsolutePoker

Bad legal analysis

This afternoon somebody with the screen name of Ronin555 posted this note on a 2+2 forum:

As a criminal defense lawyer familiar with the statutes under which the US Attorney's Office proceeded against Full Tilt and Poker Stars, I was incredibly disappointed in the criminal indictments. Here's a link to my legal analysis of the charges, for those interested:

(Hat tip to Tweet from Erik Seidel.)

Sounded interesting, so I read it. The name on the page, and thus the presumed author, is Kevin J. Mahoney.

I quickly ran into a problem. He writes, "The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also charging the defendants with violating the Wire Act. The Wire Act, found at 18 U.S.C. §1084, provides in pertinent part as follows...."

Although I had not previously had any reason to read the indictments, my friend C.K. had mentioned in one of her posts that the Wire Act (18 U.S.C. 1084) was not implicated. So I finally looked at the indictment myself. A quick scan through it did not find any mention of the Wire Act. I did a text search for "1084" and found no instances of it, though a similar search did find the other numerical sections of the U.S. Code referenced.

In short, C.K. is correct--the Wire Act is not referred to in the indictment.

But Mr. Mahoney writes, after a brief analysis of the Wire Act,
For the Wire Act to apply, the Federal Courts have consistently ruled that, consistent with the plain language of the statute, the object of the gambling must be a sporting event or contest. Since there is no allegation of any kind that these defendants engaged in online sports betting, the U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot even make a colorable claim that these defendants violated the Wire Act. Under these circumstances, indicting the defendants for violating the Wire Act is disgracefully unethical.

There are plenty of things to dislike about this whole affair, but misinterpretation of the Wire Act is not among them. (Incidentally, that "consistently ruled" thing is a stretch. As far as I know, there has been just one case in the whole country addressing the sports/nonsports question. That case got both a trial court and a circuit appellate court decision (read it here) saying that it pertained only to sports betting. I suppose that two for two is "consistently" in a sense, but it's hardly a broad-based judicial consensus. I don't doubt that most courts would be likely to agree--it's just that they haven't had occasion to do so yet.)

Mr. Mahoney, did you not read the indictments before writing your "analysis"? If you did, how could you conclude that violation of the Wire Act was among the criminal counts? Or were you deliberately misleading your readers, in order to score easy rhetorical points? If you didn't read or didn't understand the document you were attacking, after holding yourself out as one who is "familiar with the statutes under which the US Attorney's Office proceeded against Full Tilt and Poker Stars," wouldn't you agree that that is, um, "disgracefully unethical"?

It is impossible to assign any credibility to his work when he makes such a fundamental error. If he doesn't get right what laws are in play, who would trust him to correctly understand the statutes and/or correctly be applying the facts to the law and coming up with any sort of believable conclusion?

Addendum, April 22, 2011

Mr. Mahoney has now changed the text of his article. The first excerpt I quoted has now been changed to read, "The Wire Act, found at 18 U.S.C. §1084, also does not provide legal grounds to prosecute the defendants. It provides in pertinent part as follows...." The last sentence of the second excerpt I quoted has been removed. He made these changes without leaving a notation anywhere about having done so, which means that a reader might wonder whether I misquoted him. I also checked the 2+2 forum where he left the announcement of his article, and he did not add a subsequent post explaining that he had been wrong about the Wire Act and saying that he had revised his article. In short, it appears that Mr. Mahoney knows that he was wrong, but is unwilling to admit it. So in addition to being a sloppy, careless attorney, he's not the most ethical, intellectually honest guy on the planet.

Guess the casino, #834

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Santa Fe Station

Dealers find new ways to annoy me

I played at the Stratosphere this evening. Two dealers managed to get on my bad side.


I waited for nearly an hour for a game to start. No problem; this is why I always carry an old New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in my pocket. I pulled out the one I've been working on. I had already been through it twice, and was now going back to fill in the remaining holes. Obviously, I had done all the clues I found easiest, and was left with only the ones that were stumping me.

There was a dealer in the box, deadspreading. He was obviously bored. He asked me an inane question or two. "Working on a crossword puzzle?" No, sir, I'm designing Boeing's next jumbo jet. Moron.

I thought the one-word, curt answers without lifting up my head to make eye contact would be sufficient social signaling that I wasn't open to imbecilic chatting. Apparently not. He said, "Tell me one of the clues--an easy one."

One of the pleasures of such puzzles--unless you intentionally set out to work on it with another person--is completing it without help. You get to sit back after filling in the last letter and think, "I did it!" If somebody helps, it ruins that sensation. It's just as if you cheated by Googling an answer, or looking in the back of the book. I most definitely was not feeling like sharing the puzzle, when I was more than 75% of the way to the finish line.

So I told him--again without giving him the courtesy of looking up--"There aren't any easy ones." He surprised me with his reaction: "Oh, is that one of those New York Times ones?" I nodded. "Oh, well, I probably wouldn't know any of those." I didn't answer, but I thought, "Good. Then maybe you'll shut up."

But no. He kept watching me, and a couple of minutes later he reached over and tapped on a space on the bottom line of the puzzle where he could see I had a seven-letter word partly filled in: IDLE_ _ _. "What's the clue for that one?"

Son of a bitch. I don't want to play with you, dude, and keep your grubby hands off of my puzzle. But I didn't say that. I told him, knowing there was no chance in hell he'd get it. "Do-nothing's state."



"Gee, I have no idea what that would be."

Good. Then shut yer piehole, pinhead.

"Is it 'IDLING?'"

"No, that wouldn't fit the space." This was said through gritted teeth.

Fortunately, he stopped guessing at that point and left me alone.

I'm aware that I can be oblivious to social cues and expectations at times. But however bad I am at that stuff, this blundering imbecile is a hundred times worse. He was as socially clueless as Dana Carvey's "Massive Head Wound Harry." The only way I could have been throwing off more obvious clues that I wanted to be left alone would have been to literally shoot some silk thread out of my butt and start wrapping myself in a cocoon.

The answer to the clue, by the way, turned out to be IDLESSE, a word that I'm not sure I had ever encountered before today.


A while after the game finally got underway, there was a three-way pot that was checked on the flop, turn, and river. The pot was $8. (I'm not sure how that happened. Maybe a fourth player checked out when he missed the flop. Doesn't really matter for the story.) All three players had an ace-baby hand, and were to chop the pot. As the dealer--a 50-something guy named Richard--was putting the chips into two stacks of three and one stack of two, he said, "I think you guys should just leave it all for the dealer."

I've had dealers be pretty obvious in their hinting for tips. There's one guy at Imperial Palace who makes a big show of saying "Nice hand" to players who win any sort of decent pot and who haven't tipped him as quickly as he thinks they should. I get it from him all the time, because I don't give the cards back until the pot is in my possession, and he obviously worries that I'll forget. One of my very earliest blog posts here (November 15, 2006, to be exact) was about three instances of dealer beggars I had encountered in rapid succession. Those stories remained the most flagrant instances I had seen--until today.

Asking for tips, directly or indirectly, is one of the most ugly and unprofessional things dealers can do. I would also guess that it directly violates the explicit policy of every poker room in the state. I have known dealers who make a policy of always answering "yes" when a player asks whether he or she remembered a toke ("Did I get you for that last hand?"), even if the truth is no, because they want to steer entirely clear of saying or doing anything that even remotely smells of requesting tips.

Not Richard. He just out-and-out told three players simultaneously that they should leave the pot to him, rather than make him divide it between them.

What a massive, pathetic loser.

(Uncredited image found here. I cannot tell if it is original to that site.)

Wimpy, 2011

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Notes on the crisis, part 3

3. Ending the tyranny of the majority

(Part 1 of this rant is here, Part 2 here.)

I first heard the phrase "tyranny of the majority" when reading many years ago about the history of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. The concept is pretty simple: majorities have a nasty history of oppressing minorities in just about any and every way that they can get away with. The idea behind our Bill of Rights was that we collectively agreed to put some individual liberties beyond the power of any popular or legislative majority to curtail. (See, most famously, Federalist 10.)

In practice, at least these days in the U.S., it's actually sort of a tyranny of the minority. That's because the majority of people don't care much about any given issue, which means that highly motived minorities can exert disproportionate influence over public policy. To take an example from the other ever-controversial subject the politics of which I track closely, most Americans, when polled, agree that citizens should have the right to own firearms. But in reality, it's a rather small minority who care enough about the subject to make it a primary focus of their political activity--voting, financial support for candidates, following the news, attending rallies, and so on. As it happens, there is a somewhat larger bloc who care passionately in favor of gun ownership rights than who care passionately for restricting them. But whenever some legislative proposal to either expand or contract gun rights comes up, it's a small fraction of the populace whose voices carry the day in one direction or the other. The vast middle is pretty apathetic about any issue you can name.

And that's how we get to a situation like poker's Black Friday. The percentage of the population who deeply believe that it is sinful or erosive to society for you to play a $1 SNG in your pajamas and it is therefore an appropriate use of governmental force to imprison you if you try it is, objectively, tiny. But they were able to put enough pressure on a few key congressmen and senators at the right time (i.e., when Bill Frist was contemplating a presidential run) that they squeaked through the UIGEA in 2006, which has now led to the meltdown. If we had a national plebiscite on the legality of online poker, we'd likely win. But, of course, that's not how things work.

Many writers have taken to their computer keyboards over the last few days to propose tactics for getting the situation resolved in our favor--most commonly by renewing efforts to push through Congress something like last year's Frank bill. In contrast, I would like to point out what I submit is the only real long-term solution, with "long-term" there meaning over the course of generations and even centuries.

In addition to the many pragmatic problems I think any federal regulatory scheme over online gambling will have, its greatest defect and vulnerability is that it is reversible. Sure, we may get the political pendulum to swing far enough our way that such a thing passes. But time marches on, legislators get replaced, and popular opinions shift. Sooner or later, there could easily come a majority--or highly influential minority--who will take it all away again, in the name of protecting us from our own allegedly destructive tendencies. First we get the 18th amendment (prohibition), then we get the 21st (repeal).

There is only one permanent solution, as I see it, and that is the emergence of a collective, nationwide, broad-spectrum detente on restrictions on individual choices. Libertarians have long understood this concept. You may think the war on drugs is a great use of government's budget and coercive powers, while you are appalled that a stoner thinks the same federal resources should be used to keep you from owning a .50 caliber semi-automatic assault rifle.

Well, rather than spending your time and energy trying to push your legislators to protect the rights you think are important and attack the rights the other guy wants respected, how about both of you calling off your dogs? Agree to disagree, but, more importantly, agree to leave each other alone.

You agree to let me worship Satan, and I won't stand in the way of you building your mosque in Manhattan. You let me drive a Humvee, and I won't try to force you to buy only compact fluorescent light bulbs. You let me use whatever birth control option I care to, and I won't protest your same-sex marriage. You don't object to my sexual fetish web site, and I'll support your freedom to snort cocaine. You agree to repeal laws banning restaurants' use of trans fats, and I'll lobby to repeal laws mandating that motorcycle riders wear helmets. You let me buy Four Loco, and I'll let you buy Sudafed without a prescription or filling out a bunch of forms.

I could multiply examples, but you get the idea.

What doesn't work is the continual battle of a whole bunch of small minority groups trying to fend off bans of their favored activity, with some other small minority group trying to erect or strengthen such bans, each making pragmatic arguments about why their point of view is superior. That only results in hundreds of little, ongoing games of political tug-of-war, with this side or that side temporarily moving the marker a little this way or a little that way.

The only way to get the freedom to play poker genuinely secure in the long term is to achieve a broad consensus not about poker specifically, but on the general principle that we will be a truly free society, meaning one in which we do not seek to control each other's conduct. With the caveat that there be no use of fraud or force, people should be free to expend their money, time, and energy however the hell they choose to.

If you read this blog, you probably share my outrage that people like Jon Kyl and Bob Goodlatte can so flippantly decide that they think online gaming is, in some sense, "bad," and therefore write and pass laws that ban or greatly restrict it, and go home feeling that they have done good work and made the country a better place in which to live. But if you at the same time applaud the passage of laws that prevent others from marrying who they choose or ingesting whatever substances they most enjoy, you're a hypocrite. More pragmatically, you're locked in a perpetual battle that you cannot ultimately win, like the oppositely-tinted black-and-white guys at each other's throats at the end of Star Trek's "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

Let me put this bluntly, and in a way that I know in advance will raise hackles: If you voted for either Obama or McCain in the last presidential election, or for either Bush or Kerry before that, you're now getting what you deserve, and, moreover, what you asked for.

Oh sure, you didn't specifically want them to ban online poker. But you had to know that all of the major-party candidates were, at heart, statists--men who believe that the government should have ever-increasing power and control over the lives of its citizens. Maybe you voted for Obama because you thought he would sign into law tougher environmental restrictions or erect protectionist tariffs, or for McCain because you thought he would crack down on immigration or continue a ban on gays in the military. It doesn't really matter what the details were--you were voting for somebody on the basis that he would use force to prevent other people from doing what they wanted to do. You had to just cross your fingers and meekly hope that the people you elected wouldn't do anything to keep you from your favored activities.

Sorry, but you miscalculated. You put into office people because you supported their banning of A, B, and C, and you end up shocked--SHOCKED--that they also banned D, which you think is among your God-given rights. Well, as Fox Mulder once asked in "The X-Files," "Did you really think you could call up the Devil and ask him to behave?" Statists are statists. They not only think they have the moral authority to enact restrictions on various freedoms, they deep-down think it is their duty, their mandate from the people to do so.

As long as we give them guns and just hope that the guns will be pointed at somebody else, we can't really be surprised if we sometimes catch a bullet from the crossfire.

The solution is to elect people who agree that individual liberty is the paramount value, to be restricted as little as possible consistent with ordered society. There are precious few such people holding elected office these days. Ron Paul comes the closest of anybody I know of. When he was running for president, part of his stump speech was to tell the crowd, "I don't want to run your life!" You never heard those words from Obama. (And if you did, you would know it was just another of his lies.)

I'm afraid that trying to convince a working majority of Americans that online poker is terribly important and should be left to flourish without governmental interference is an impossible task; most of them just don't care enough to lift a finger on your behalf.

I suggest instead trying to convince them that freedom is terribly important. First, you're more likely to get agreement on that point than you are about the specific issue of online poker. Second, once we come to a general consensus on that point, the question of whether you should be able to log onto Full Tilt is already answered in advance, and it's not a battle you'll have to wage.

(For some freedom-loving voices on the poker situation, see here, here, here and here.)

Content thief at it again

In late February I posted a short note about a web site, "rodmanpoker" that was reposting, without permission or even notification, content from this and other poker blogs. I emailed the site owner. He apologized, said he was just experimenting with code, and took down the purloined posts.

Well, earlier today my friend Shamus let me know that the guy is at it again. Sure enough, I see one of Shamus's recent Peru travel reports posted there. There is also a copy of a couple of posts from the Carbon Poker blog, this one from PartTimePoker, this one from Pokerati, etc.

I was willing to accept his apology and explanation when it had just happened once. Now, however, this is clearly a pattern. His previous explanation that he was just messing around with autoposting was plainly a lie; he seems to have decided to make it the source of everything he posts.

The contact information I have lists the site owner as "Dustin Cal," with email address of Fellow bloggers, you might let him know what you think of his ethics.

Guess the casino, #833

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Planet Hollywood

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grump v. Jordan

I was just browsing through some of the blogs that I check on occasionally but don't have in my RSS reader. I found this post from Jordan (HighOnPoker) from about three weeks ago, in which he discusses a razz hand he and I played during the Tuesday Night Booze Cruise March 29. You'll need to go read his post before my discussion of the hand here will make sense. Go ahead. I'll wait.

You're back? Great.

The full hand history is posted below for reference. Let's look at it step by step.

I was dealt 5-6-7, so when everybody folded to me, it was an obvious raise with only Jordan (bring-in with a Q up) left. He's not quite right that I would raise there with any down cards, but almost any two is certainly true. With two good down cards (2 and 6), he called.

I don't hate that call. In fact, by coincidence, earlier that same day I had put up a post in which I tried to defend raising with a K up when I thought that somebody was just stealing my bring-in. That situation had the added dynamics of me being the big stack and the "stealer" being the short stack on the bubble, so it's not exactly comparable, but the point remains that I agree with Jordan that it's not always crazy to defend with a bad up card.

As it turned out, I was actually way ahead: I was 69% to win, Jordan 31%. (Percentages come from the wonderful razz hand simulator at ProPokerTools.) He was a 2.23:1 underdog. The pot was 140 after my completion, and he had to call 40 more, giving him immediate pot odds of 3.5:1. Which means that if he had been able to see my cards (Sklansky's classic criteria), the call would have been correct. The fact that my range was certainly broader than what I actually had makes it even more reasonable.

On 4th street, I get a Q, Jordan gets a 2. He pairs, which sucks for him, but I don't know that. It superficially looks like a good card for him from my perspective--except that (as he apparently deduced one street later) it gave me suspicion that he had paired, because most people will defend with a big card showing only with the most premium down cards (A2, A3, 23, etc.). He bet 60, I raised to 120, thinking that he would have to fold if the deuce had, in fact, paired him. Instead, he called.

I think that call is questionable. I am telling him, "Yeah, we both have a queen, but I suspect you just paired, and even if you didn't, my starting hand is strong enough that I'm willing to put more chips in against you." I think the right move in that spot is either (1) admit that you've been caught, the jig is up, and fold, or (2) reraise, which is the only way that you're likely to convince me you think your hand is stronger than mine, after discounting our equal queens. I.e., if you want me to believe that you started with A-3 and now have A-2-3, you have to raise.

Jordan writes that the call will "sell the story I wish to tell." I disagree completely. If you're actually sitting there with Q32A, and you see that the best I can possibly have is Q72A (and, of course, I might have much worse), why would you just call? To me the call said that either I was right about the deuce pairing and you were just going to try to get lucky, or you had started with something pretty mediocre, like A7 or A8 down, and now you were kind of stuck with a hand you couldn't quite fold but didn't like enough to reraise with.

What is the math on that call? I am now a 74/26 favorite, so Jordan is a 2.85:1 dog. The pot is 360 after my raise, and he has to call another 60, so getting 6:1 makes the call correct, somewhat surprisingly. (That kind of math is why it's often so hard to get people to fold in razz, even when they're obviously behind.) A raise is really better, though, in terms of the dynamics of the hand, setting up the steal, reinforcing the image you're trying to get across, and building a bigger pot in the event that you get lucky on the next streets. Unwillingness to make the pot bigger is inconsistent with selling the idea that you think you're ahead there.

Fifth street sucks for me: a ten to Jordan's 5. He bets 120, I call. I'm still ahead (64%/36%), though I'm in some doubt, relying on hope that my read of the deuce pairing him was correct.

Now let's look back again at 4th street. Suppose Jordan had reraised me there, telling a more convincing (though actually false) story that he had three babies and knew he was ahead of my Q7. I think most likely I would have folded with the second brick hitting me on 5th. The weak call on 4th, though, prompted me to continue with caution, and Jordan needed to get lucky again on 6th.

Sixth street sucks even worse: Another ten for me, 4 for Jordan. For the first time, I'm an underdog, with three bad cards to his two. I'm down to 29.1% to win to his 70.9%. The best hand I can make is a 10 low, and I'll be stuck with a queen low if seventh street brings me a king, queen, 10, 7, 6, or 5. That's a lot of cards that will make a really sucky hand. So I folded to his bet.

Was the fold correct? Let's see. I was a 2.44:1 dog, pot was 780, pot odds of 780:120 or 6.5:1. So I suppose that a call would be justifiable in those terms. But calling leaves me in a difficult predicament no matter what comes on 7th street. Even if I get my best card, an ace, I won't know where I am. Worse than that is the possibility that I'm already drawing dead, and will end up putting in two large bets (on 6th and 7th) with zero chance of winning, if I had been wrong in my guess about him pairing on 4th street. E.g., if his down cards were A3 or A6 or A7, or a whole bunch of other possible combinations, I was already dead. Given that, I think folding was the prudent move.

I appreciate Jordan's kind words (that he trusted I could figure out what was going on and not just blindly call down in desperation), as well as his modesty in not claiming to outplay me.

Josie piped up with a comment to the contrary, though: "You outplayed Grump!" Maybe, but I don't think so. I bet, raised, or called at every opportunity when I was ahead, and never put in a single chip when I was behind. Jordan, on the other hand, put in the equivalent of five small bets when he was behind. Without meaning to sound either self-congratulatory or critical of Jordan's play, that's a decent argument that I played the hand better and just got unlucky.

Full Tilt Poker Game #29461729425: Tuesday Night Booze Cruise (227570769), Table 3 - 60/120 Ante 10 - Limit Razz - 21:38:05 ET - 2011/03/29
Seat 1: SmBoatDrinks (2,385)
Seat 2: Rakewell (1,743)
Seat 3: HighOnPoker (2,912)
Seat 4: DDionysus (1,870)
Seat 5: cubbies760 (340)
Seat 6: MsDredful (1,175)
SmBoatDrinks antes 10
Rakewell antes 10
HighOnPoker antes 10
DDionysus antes 10
cubbies760 antes 10
MsDredful antes 10
*** 3RD STREET ***
Dealt to SmBoatDrinks [Jd]
Dealt to Rakewell [5h 7c] [6h]
Dealt to HighOnPoker [Qs]
Dealt to DDionysus [8h]
Dealt to cubbies760 [Jh]
Dealt to MsDredful [9h]
HighOnPoker is high with [Qs]
HighOnPoker brings in for 20
DDionysus folds
cubbies760 folds
MsDredful folds
MsDredful is sitting out
SmBoatDrinks folds
Rakewell completes it to 60
MsDredful has returned
HighOnPoker calls 40
*** 4TH STREET ***
Dealt to Rakewell [5h 7c 6h] [Qc]
Dealt to HighOnPoker [Qs] [2s]
HighOnPoker bets 60
Rakewell raises to 120
HighOnPoker calls 60
*** 5TH STREET ***
Dealt to Rakewell [5h 7c 6h Qc] [Th]
Dealt to HighOnPoker [Qs 2s] [5d]
HighOnPoker bets 120
Rakewell calls 120
*** 6TH STREET ***
Dealt to Rakewell [5h 7c 6h Qc Th] [Ts]
Dealt to HighOnPoker [Qs 2s 5d] [4h]
HighOnPoker bets 120
Rakewell folds
Uncalled bet of 120 returned to HighOnPoker
HighOnPoker mucks
HighOnPoker wins the pot (660)
*** SUMMARY ***
Total pot 660 | Rake 0
Seat 1: SmBoatDrinks folded on 3rd St.
Seat 2: Rakewell folded on 6th St.
Seat 3: HighOnPoker collected (660), mucked
Seat 4: DDionysus folded on 3rd St.
Seat 5: cubbies760 folded on 3rd St.
Seat 6: MsDredful folded on 3rd St.

Notes on the crisis, part 2

2. It's political

Prosecutors at all levels of government like to portray themselves as objective, neutral enforcers of the law, tackling all lawbreakers with equal zest. That, of course, is hogwash.

I write about this because I have detected a tone of such Pollyanna idealism in the writings of a number of bloggers over the past few days. They say things such as that the U.S. Attorney in New York had no choice but to pursue these allegations.

Well, that's just not true. He had extremely broad, nearly unlimited discretion.

Consider what has to go into each decision to pursue or not pursue a known or suspected violation of any criminal law. There are limited resources available (personnel, budget, court time, etc.), never anywhere near enough to take on every violation of every law, so choices have to be made. Every decision to doggedly pursue Case X means that a Case Y has to be allowed to slide by, or pleaded out to a lesser charge with minimal expenditure of money and staff time.

First there are the pragmatic considerations. Is there enough evidence to have a strong chance of a successful prosecution? How many man-hours will the case consume? Will it likely lead to other crimes/criminals that can be taken sequentially?

Then there are the social considerations. Which crimes are most important to society? Which violators and violations are the most egregious and/or the most deleterious to quality of life for everybody else? Obviously, e.g., the drunk driver on his 20th arrest is a more important target for the hardest possible push than the first-time offender.

But even after you take into account those factors, there is still a large element of prosecutorial discretion that can only be labeled as political. (I don't mean that pejoratively; it is neither intrinsically good or bad, it just is.) This includes considerations such as how widely known the alleged crime is, and, closely related to that, how much public clamor there is for action to be taken. For example, after the police officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted on state charges, there was enormous public pressure put on the federal Department of Justice to take a crack at them for civil rights violations. When you get a highly publicized crime like the murder of Yusef Hawkins in Bensonhurst, James Byrd dragged to death in Texas, or the Central Park Jogger case, you can be sure that the prosecution will be more aggressive than it would be for an otherwise equally appalling crime that didn't happen to catch media attention.

The identity and prominence of the suspect make a difference. Sometimes those factors cause the prosecutor to go easy. For example, local prosecutors tend to be extremely reluctant to put cops in jail, because they need the ongoing support of the police force, and bad blood between the police and the DA makes every case that much harder. Other times, being a high-profile defendant can work against you, as a prosecutor will be more aggressive either to make an example of you or to make a deliberate show of not being soft on the rich and famous.

Another political factor is how much money can be recovered from the case.

Personal politics and preferences play a role. Just as some judges give, e.g., drunk drivers a mere slap on the wrist while others let them rot in prison for as long as the statutes allow, so some prosecutors have a bee in their bonnet for certain categories of crime, while their counterparts in other jurisdictions expend relatively less energy on the same things.

Similarly, entire departments and divisions have institutional priorities. Within the past week, for instance, we have seen the Department of Justice close up its "Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a special Justice Department unit set up during the Bush administration under pressure from conservatives upset about the proliferation of obscene material on the Internet." Over the loud objections of a bunch of senators, Eric Holder has simply decided that he has other more important priorities for his department. Similarly, in 2009 the DOJ announced that it would not be pursuing marijuana cases that were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. (However, like most of what is announced by the Obama administration, this turned out to be pretty much a lie.)

Perhaps the most insidious way in which politics affects prosecutorial discretion is personal ambition. Prosecuting attorneys, like most everybody else, want to move up in the world. If you don't think that Rudolph Giuliani and Eliot Spitzer had their eyes on the governor's mansion when they were picking and choosing what cases to take on as prosecutors, your naivete is too profound for me to cure with a single blog post. Many U.S. Attorneys likely picture themselves as the future Attorney General or White House Counsel or head of the FBI--or going to the other side of the street where the big money is, taking on the richest criminal defendants. For all such future career moves, keeping their names in the public eye with high-profile cases is an extremely important consideration. For example, about the time I was moving from Minnesota to Nevada, there was the case of a hunter from St. Paul, Chai Vang, who killed six people and injured two others in the Wisconsin woods, claiming self-defense. The Attorney General of Wisconsin, Peg Lautenschlager, was facing a tough reelection bid due to her drunk driving charge two years earlier, and she took time out of her campaign to personally conduct the prosecution, an extremely unusual move for a state AG, nakedly calculated for her own political benefit.

When you consider the Manhattan U.S. Attorney tackling the poker sites, you have to wonder why him, rather than any of the other 93 U.S. Attorneys in the country? Why now? Why these sites, and not the myriad sites offering other casino games? Why online gaming at all as a subject of prosecution rather than other crimes that they could choose to be focusing their resources on? Many other commentators have already expressed outrage that the poker site owners are having the book thrown at them while those in the financial industry who were most responsible for the current economic crisis seem to have gotten off scot-free. (As just one example, see here.) Were there really no federal laws broken by anybody anywhere in that mess?

I am not suggesting that political considerations explain everything about why these cases are brought at all, or where they were brought, or when they were brought. But you'd have to be wearing glasses more rose-colored than Greg Raymer's to think that the personal agendas, motivations, preferences, and ambitions of those most highly placed in that particular U.S. Attorney's office played no part in it. Naturally they would deny it vehemently, and naturally I can't provide even a shred of actual evidence for this assertion. Nevertheless, I am absolutely certain that it is true. That is just the nature of how these things are. Chief prosecutors at any level of government are, almost without exception, personally aggressive, ambitious people, or they would not be where they are. They are skilled at looking after their own best interests. That includes doing so by their decisions on who, what, when, and how aggressively to prosecute.

A high-profile, international, precedent-setting case with potentially billions of dollars of assets subject to forfeiture is a ripe, attractive target for an ambitious prosecutor aiming to increase his name recognition and advance his own career prospects. I don't know how anybody could either deny that obvious fact or wave it off as if it's irrelevant to the recent developments.

Could there be even more under-the-table forces at work? For example, could MGM and Caesars be putting the squeeze on key Obama administration officials (and/or greasing the right palms) to clear the table for their own later entry into the field? Sure. But I don't go there, in the absence of evidence. There's no need to postulate a conspiracy of that sort when the ordinary, ubiquitous motives of personal ambition adequately explain what we see happening. You know, Occam's razor and all that.

If anybody tries to tell you that this set of indictments does not have a strong political element, they're either lying or ill-informed. It IS political.

Guess the casino, #832

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: MGM Grand

Poker gems, #415

Matt Matros, in Card Player magazine column, April 20, 2011 (vol. 24, #8), page 58.

A lot of players are married to the idea that they can avoid marginally profitable, high-risk situations because they are skilled enough to select only highly profitable lower-risk situations. I also thought this way for a while. It was only when I chose to view myself as an average player, and to be satisfied that I was taking advantage of every profitable situation available, that I became a good tournament player.

Notes on the crisis, part 1

I don't like repeating things that have been said by others--often better than I would say them. I have no special insight on the weekend's events that largely shut down the U.S. online poker industry, nor will I be as deeply affected by the blackout as many others. Other writers are better versed in the intricacies of what happened, and have better crystal balls as to what might yet happen. Go read them. You know where to find them.

Still, I have three lines of thought that I have not seen elsewhere. (Of course, it's likely that somebody else has said or written similar things somewhere outside of my circle of reading; I haven't tried scouring blogs and forums to find out.)

1. The ugly power of terminology

Every time I hear the words "bank fraud" and "money laundering" in the context of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, something deep inside me says, "That's not what happened."

Now, admittedly, I haven't bothered to read the indictments. Nor have I bothered to read the relevant financial statutes, let alone try to match the allegations laid out in the accusatory papers to the elements of the crimes charged. I do not claim to know whether the factual allegations are true, nor whether, even if true, they genuinely amount to violations of the statutes specified. Heck, I haven't even checked a sampling of dictionaries to see what definitions they offer.

My inner rebellion against the terms is not, therefore, a legal or technical one. It's an emotional, gut-level one.

When I hear the terms "bank fraud" and "money laundering," what they conjure up in my mind is something vastly different from and far more malignant than the alleged conduct of Stars and FTP, as filtered to me through reasonably reliable news sources and commentators.

Let's start with "bank fraud." It seems to me, at least on first blush, that for bank fraud to have occurred, somebody must have been defrauded. E.g., John Doe's next door neighbor dies quietly, and Doe, who has the emergency key, uses his access to find the financial documents, and finagles withdrawals from the decedent's bank account. Clearly the dead neighbor's rightful heirs have thus been cheated out of what should be theirs. Money has been stolen from them. They have been defrauded. Or consider the actions--based on real events in Canada--of Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in the chilling film "Owning Mahowny": As a trusted loan officer at a bank, he wrote checks to nonexistent entities and cashed them himself in order to fuel his gambling addiction. Classic bank fraud any way you look at it. The bank lost huge sums of money.

But who was the victim in the poker cases? Players wanted to move money onto or off of the poker sites. The sites wanted those transactions to occur, too. The banks profited by being the intermediaries, via their usual transaction or account fees. Everybody wins. Everybody is happy. Everybody gets what they want. Nobody has had anything stolen. Nobody has been defrauded out of anything of material worth.

If the term "bank fraud" is to fit--and again, I'm talking about what the words mean to me, and perhaps to the average Joe, too, not any statutory definitions--in my mind there has to be somebody, either a person or a corporate entity, who was defrauded out of money, and I don't see any such victim here.

How about "money laundering"? If you're like me, that term brings to mind flashes of organized crime, of South American drug cartels, of terrorist organizations, all finding illicit ways to either fund their operations or reap the profits of their crimes in ways that appear licit. I think of Tony Soprano's trash collection business. I think of ostensibly charitable front organizations that actually shunt money to buy guns for the Irish Republican Army. I think of vast criminal networks that exist solely to profit their members by preying on the weak by means of dishonesty, force, threats, and violence, disguising their ill-gotten gains to look as innocent as a Girl Scout troop's cookie sales.

What I don't think of is PokerStars putting a "golfing supplies" code instead of a "gambling" code on the credit card transaction of Don Donkey in Peoria, Illinois, when he wants $100 in poker credit to fund a year or so of his weekly microstakes game with his old college buddies. I also don't think of me transferring $10 to my nephew on the old Bugsy's Club site so that I could play him in a series of $1 heads-up matches for fun, when he didn't have a bank account from which he could make the deposit himself. (Yes, that actually happened. Go ahead and send me to jail for it.)

Like me, you have probably heard horror stories of relatively minor crimes getting their perpetrator labeled for life as a "sex offender." It can happen these days, e.g., if an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old engage in fully consensual sex (depending on the laws in the jurisdiction), or if a 15-year-old girl sends a semi-nude cell phone photo of herself to her boyfriend, who then forwards it to a friend. The label of "sex offender" is not just humiliating, it results in requirements to register with the police wherever he goes, to live only in certain designated areas of the city, foreclosure of entire careers that involve working with children, etc. It is patently absurd to lump such offenders together with the truly heinous repeat predators in our society, and use the same term--"sex offender"--to describe them all. Such usage tends to erase important distinctions in degree of odiousness.

So it is here. The terms "bank fraud" and "money laundering," when stretched to include the allegations I've heard about, start to lose their meaning. Or, to put it another way, the terms carry excessive guilt by association--like the guy picked up for littering put in the same holding cell with John Gotti.

No doubt that is precisely the effect the prosecutors wish to have, in addition to whatever technical legal merit the terms may possess. As prosecutors always do when they go public with their charges, they want to skew the public perception against the defendants, for a variety of reasons.

Maybe I'm naive, but I am loath to believe that the actions of Stars and Tilt and their banking associates were much more than technical violations, even if all of the allegations against them are factually provable.* The difference between what I understand they are accused of doing and what in my mind constitutes real "bank fraud" and real "money laundering" is not just a matter of degree, but of kind. It is the difference between malum prohibitum and malum in se.

It is undoubtedly true that my feelings on this are due, at root, to my deep-seated conviction that no truly moral society makes it a crime for mentally competent adults to engage in commercial transactions that are fully to all parties' satisfaction and benefit. It should not be a crime to play poker (or, for that matter, blackjack or roulette) online or in person anywhere in a free society--nor to hire a prostitute, buy heroin, or subscribe to a pay-per-view pornographic web site. Governments should interfere in such private matters only to prevent and punish the use of deception and coercion.

I'm sure that, e.g., Senator Jon Kyl, a scum-sucking dirtbag who beats his wife, drowns kittens for pleasure, and sells child pornography to fund his reelection campaigns,** sees the underlying conduct--gambling--as intrinsically evil and deserving of no societal protection. He and I would therefore naturally come to very different perspectives on the morality of peripheral associated actions. What I see as minor technical violations of no real social import he would see as part of a dark stain on the nation, sucking in hapless victims and ruining their lives for the nefarious profit of greedy, soulless corporations. But that's because he wants to control what other people do with their time and money, and I don't.

Well, this has already gotten a lot longer than I had planned. I have two more points that I have not seen made by others, but I think it will be better if I cut this off here, add a "part 1" to the post title, and save the others for tomorrow and/or the next day.

*I have been fooled before. Likely most of you won't remember the shocking news from 1985 when one Mark Hofmann was found not only to have forged a bunch of sensational documents from early Mormon history, but to have planted bombs that killed two innocent people in an attempt to cover his tracks. I was heavily into LDS history at the time, and had been following his remarkable document "finds." I had come to like and admire him from my safe distance in the Midwest. For quite a while after he had been charged with the forgeries, fraud, and the murders, I refused to believe he was guilty, due to the good will he had built up with me and any number of other history buffs. I was dead wrong; he was guilty as sin, and there is absolutely no question about it now. I admit that it's entirely possible that I'm similarly blinded here by my fondness for two of the three sites that stand accused. (The third, Absolute Poker, of course, can go to hell as far as I'm concerned.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Guess the casino, #831

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Hard Rock

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tourney status update

Well, I didn't have to wait until tournament starting time tonight to find out whether I would be allowed to play, due to having registered before the blackout hit. The answer is no. I and the other U.S. players were automatically unregistered. The only one left currently registered is somebody in Ecuador. So go ahead and sign up and play if you want (if you're someplace other than "the land of the free"), but I won't be able to join you, as they say, due to circumstances far beyond my control. Grrrrrr.

Guess the casino, #830

To reveal the hidden answer, use your mouse to highlight the space immediately after the word "Answer" below.

Answer: Texas Station