April 15, 2011, is a date that changed the world of poker, especially the world of online poker forever. This article is a look back at Black Friday. It is a three part segment that takes a look at the events leading up to that infamous day in the first segment, follow by what actually transpired in the second segment, and then the final segment takes a look at the fallout and road to recovery that has followed.
Prior to Black Friday
To understand the complicated backdrop to the story behind Black Friday, one has to take a look back even prior to October 2006, when President Bush signed a bill into law that contained the very controversial Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). In 2002 courts determined that the Federal Wire Act, which dated back to 1961 did not include internet gambling, but it did prohibit using telecommunication line being used for sports betting. This left those apposed to internet gambling, including brick and mortar establishments, with no available recourse.
Enter then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Senator John Kyl into the picture in September 2006. Both senators were lobbied very heavily by the lobbyist for the casino industry, thus both were against online gambling. The UIGEA was created and pushed forward by Senator Frist, who hoped to get it pass in order to win him points in the upcoming presidential race. He and Senator Kyl were the only two senators that were actually for the UIGEA.
Reading of the Report Waived?
With the Senate session winding down for an early exit for mid-term election campaigning, Senator Frist had the UIGEA added at the last minute to the Safe Port Act bill, through the Conference Report 109-711. The Safe Port Act was the key to getting his legislation passed. The Safe Port Act dealt primarily with the port security, terrorism and national safety, there was never any mention of internet gambling in the version of the Safe Port Act that was passed by the Senate on September 14, with the vote set for September 29.
After the last minute attachment of the UIGEA to the Safte Port Act, that final version was sen back to the House of Representatives and the Senate for approval. Either on purpose or not, with other pressing matters to address, and the desire of many to get back on the campaign trail, the reading of the Conference Report was waived, and on September 30, 2006, the bill passed the Senate almost unanimously. President Bush would later sign the bill into law on October 13, 2006. Senator Frist had successfully sneaked a bill nobody wanted to pass into law.
Passage Into Law
While the UGEA does not specifically prohibit US players from playing online poker, the UIGEA does prohibit businesses from transferring funds to and from gambling sites. Te actual final regulations were not completely formulated until November 2008. Those regulations didn’t go into effect until Jan. 19, 2009, which was actually the last full day of George W. Bush’s presidency. Compliance to these regulations wasn’t required until December 2009. However, another bill was introduced later that delayed requirement to comply with the regulations till June 1, 2010.
While some sites responded to the passage of the UIGEA by immediately pulling out of the US, other sites continued to allow Americans to deposit, withdraw, and play. PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet being the most popular sites among the U.S. players. The poker site providers that stayed in the US market faced many obstacles when it came to accepting deposits form American players as banks immediately became reluctant to transfer funds that might in any way be considered to be going to a gambling site. In the end, every publicly-traded online poker site followed the lead of Poker Party, who was the first to leave, and voluntarily left the US market, these sites included such giants as 888.Poker, Titan Poker and William Hill.
Online Poker at Its Height
At the time legislation of the UIGEA was deceptively pass into law, online poker and poker in general was in the midst of its growth explosion. There is no better place to tell the impact than at the World Series of Poker’s (WSOP) Main Even. In 1970 the main even totaled 7 players, and was unlike any that followed it. The first champion was actually determined by a vote. Jack Binion invited the best seven poker players in the U.S. to his Horseshoe casino in Las Vegas. Invited were “Amarillo Slim” Preston, Johnny Moss, Sailor Roberts, Doyle Brunson, Puggy Pearson, Crandell Addington, and Carl Cannon. Johnny Moss was awarded a silver cup by virtue of a second round of voting, legend is the on the first round of voting each player voted for themselves, and the second round the players were asked to vote for who they considered the second best. By 1980 the number had grown to 73 players and 194 players by 1990. When Chris “Jesus” Ferguson won the main even in 2000, there were 512 entries to the tournament. The steady growth showed the strength of the game. However, nothing could prepare the poker world for what was coming.
Even though online poker had been growing progressively for several years, it was the 2003 WSOP Main Even that year which would have the greatest and most everlasting effect of the world of poker. By this time the tournament had grown to 839 players. It was this year that Chris Moneymaker, an online armature who had his seat for the WSOP Main Event through an $86 online satellite tournament sponsored by Poker Stars, that would win the tournament. Moneymaker took home the tournament bracelet and $2,500,000, in what was his the first ever live poker tournament.
Moneymake’s win not only gave him instant superstar status, it had also in the same instance changed the world of poker. Virtually overnight online poker’s growth exploded. The following year’s WSOP Main Event in 2004 had 2,576 entries, 2005 saw 5,619, and by 2006 the tournament had reached its high point of 8,773 entries with the tournament winner taking home $12,000,000 . The tournament had a drop off to a low of 6,358 in 2007, the year following passage of the UIGEA, but had climbed back to 7,221 by 2017.
Influence in the World of Poker
The growth of online poker paved the way for an influx of money into the world of poker and pushed the game of poker into a realm of much higher visibility. PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker and UlmitateBet were each sponsoring tournaments and events. Televised poker shows “High Stakes Poker” and “Poker After Dark” were becoming increasingly popular with their ratings climbing. PokerStars was the sponsor for “High Stakes Poker” and Full Tilt Poker was the sponsor for “Poker After Dark”. The North American Poker Tour was beginning its 2nd Season, and was planning ahead to include more U.S. stops.
In regard to looking ahead, many states were beginning to consider online poker bills in order to legislate the poker sites. This interim saw the beginning of alliances being formed between the bigger poker sites and brick and motar groups. By 2010, Fertitta Interactive, which owns Station Casinos, was discussing arrangements with Full Tilt Poker. Wynn Resort was in discussions with PokerStars. These ventures were being laid out for the contingent of future, favorable legislation with regard to online poker.
Even though the UIGEA had been pass into law in 2006, for the most part the world of poker, as well as online poker had shown only a small impact to what rapidly become a billion dollar industry. However, overnight the priorities were about to change in a big way.
Part 2 of 3 picks up with the ominous arrival of April 15, 2011, Black Friday. If you have any questions, please email me direct at email@example.com and as always I welcome your comments below….