Still room for improvement in state’s gaming

Date Published: 
January 24, 2014

For those of us who truly love playing poker, April 15, 2011, was a very dark day.

Dubbed as “Black Friday” by the general poker community, federal regulators came in under the cloak of the Illegal Gambling Business Act of 1955 and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 with an unsealed indictment against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, the “big three,” as dubbed by Chad Holloway on pokernews.com.

Just like that, online poker in the United States was basically dead — cast aside to the land of misfit toys, along with Vanilla Ice action figures and middle-aged newspaper editors who think they’re clever and ...

But I digress.

For me, it meant that I wouldn’t be able to sit on my couch anymore in fuzzy slippers and a diamond tiara while I tried to push someone in Moldova off a hand as I watched “Sanford and Son” reruns and ate hundreds of pork rinds dipped in butter. For others, it meant a complete change of lifestyle.

Many poker professionals moved to Canada or other locales so they could continue to earn a living. I’ve read stories of players who had been making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year playing online poker losing their homes and cars, and there’s at least one story circulating of a young man who took his own life because things got so bad for him financially after Black Friday. Live tournaments saw dramatic drops in the numbers of players because automatic seats earned in online tournaments were not available, and others just kind of lost interest in the game when it wasn’t as readily available.

A few months ago, the Delaware casinos opened up online play again, and New Jersey and Nevada also have it available to residents in their states. Personally, I like the feel and look of the new site, but have found it’s not as easy to find the exact game you are looking for as it used to be — since it is restricted to only Delaware residents who are physically in the state at that time.

That being said, I reached out to Jennifer “Jennicide” Leigh, one of the most-respected online players in the world, and a Delaware native. Leigh has tried the new platform when she was home with her family over the holidays, and found it to be good, with a few minor bugs, such as being disconnected and struggles with the geo-locations (“Hopefully, all just ‘teething’ problems as we move toward a more complete product,” she said.)

Leigh still comes home quite a bit from her travels playing poker and seeing the world, and had been following Delaware’s efforts to bring back online poker from afar. She said she was very excited to hear her home state would be amongst the first to get the game going again.

“Visionary,” she said, when asked about Delaware’s efforts. “I was glad to see ‘The First State,’ and my state, was being one of the first states to try and solve a problem that has so many interested parties. I continue to follow our progress in moving forward on this front.”

Yeah, that was an easy question, and pretty easy to answer. What about asking her what it was like for her and other professionals when Black Friday came along? Still cheery, lady?

“I’m happy to speak about it, but it isn’t pleasant,” she said. “My own and many others’ livelihoods were severely effected... I’ve had to adjust to the new regulatory environment. My answer is obviously biased towards the fact that it was my livelihood at the time, but it would be great if between the sites and the various government agencies, we could all work something out so that everyone involved can bring what they have to the table and we have a more equitable outcome for all.”

I was starting to realize that I couldn’t get under Leigh’s skin or throw her off her game with my questions. And I was very glad I wasn’t sitting across from her at a poker table at that time with my life’s savings when that reality hit. I resisted any urge I had to try to unnerve her, and simply asked about the future of Delaware’s online poker scene.

“As much as I love my home state, we’re never going to be able to support an entire online gaming community all the time,” she explained. “We need to partner with other states to try and ensure an adequate number of players so that when anyone logs in, there’s a game available, as opposed to waiting for specific Delaware traffic.”

Did you hear that, legislators? That was Jennicide talking this time, not me. Let’s make it happen.

It’s been said that jazz music, the Constitution and poker are three uniquely-American contributions. Let’s keep them ours.