Weekly Poker Update: June 22, 2020

Black Poker Chip With June 22, 2020 Text

You may not have realized it, but your ability to legally play online poker was being indirectly discussed with great seriousness this past Thursday. Once again, sides were arguing on the interpretation of the 1961 Federal Wire Act. And as it always seems to be the case when this musty law rears its head, there was little agreement or clarity to be found.

For those who might be new to this topic, the Wire Act was originally intended as a way to slow down the mob’s propagation of sports gambling. It essentially made it illegal for any entity to conduct any kind of gambling business over wire communications. At the time, the “wire” part of it was largely intended for telephone usage.

Of course, no one who imagined the law could have ever envisioned the internet, which is technically a form of wire communications. And for the past decade or so, depending on who happens to be the party in power, the Justice Department has gone back and forth on whether or not the law does indeed apply to online gambling activities such as online poker.

On Thursday, this long saga received a new chapter with arguments held within the First Circuit of Appeals in a dispute between the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and the United States Department of Justice. At issue is a 2018 DOJ opinion which seemed to indicate that the Wire Act should apply to online gambling such as poker in addition to sports gambling. The New Hampshire folks took legal action for fear that, if the opinion were followed, their enterprise could be considered illegal.

You might not see how any of this is a big deal for online poker. But the point is that, if the overall opinion that the Wire Act does indeed encompass all online gambling and not just sports, real money online poker could go bye-bye.

What occurred on Thursday was a mix of legal mumbo-jumbo and some nifty sidestepping by the DOJ. Their lawyers constantly assured the court that they had no intention of prosecuting the New Hampshire lottery entities. But they also seemed to contend that their 2018 opinion was indeed capable of making online gambling illegal and should be the law of the land. You can check it all out for yourself here.

This would seem to be a contradiction. Or it could indicate that the government really only wants to go after certain types of online gambling. Major casinos might be pressuring the government to take a hardline stance.

The good news is that the judges who heard the case seemed to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around the DOJ’s arguments. And this case is an appeal of a decision that already went in New Hampshire’s favor.

But the bad news is that, no matter what decision this court makes, this could still make it to the Supreme Court. Although recent major decisions have shown that members of the highest court in the land are indeed willing to vote against their perceived reputation, it is still technically a group with a conservative majority, which would seem to work against the online gambling enthusiasts.

The bottom line is that there is still a long way to go before this argument ends. Once the First Circuit Court of Appeals hands down its decision, the ball will be in the court of the losing party on whether or not to appeal. Most likely they will, then the Supreme Court will decide if they even want to hear the case before proceeding.

Still, online poker enthusiasts should keep an eye on how everything is shaking out. And they should consider how they would proceed in a worst-case scenario down the road.

Openings and Closings

Obviously, we’re still far from a return to normalcy when it comes to the poker world bouncing back to pre-COVID-19 days. This week offered a mixed bag in terms of poker rooms once again becoming a hub of activity at casinos around the world.

The good news is that Las Vegas witnessed three more major casinos opening their poker rooms back up this past week. Bellagio, Caesars Palace, and Sahara all opened up poker shops this past Thursday. That raised the number of poker rooms on the Strip to four, with seven in operation in the entire city.

Obviously, that is a far cry from full capacity. And players in those rooms will notice differences. The most impactful is a limit to the number of players at each table, which could result in a bit more waiting time before prospective players can find a seat. But it’s still a positive development.

Bellagio Poker Room

Elsewhere in the world, however, the news wasn’t as encouraging. For example, the Massachusetts Gambling Commission seems to be at odds with the casinos within the state who are balking at some harsh restrictions being imposed. And one of those harsh restrictions is that no poker rooms are allowed.

The commission acknowledged that this could be in issue for some of the casinos and have tabled formal announcement of guidelines until more talks about the issues could take place. Still, the fear is that an open-ended edict of no poker rooms could linger indefinitely once it is formally in place.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain, Genting announced the official closure of three of its casinos last week. Now comes the possibility that the remaining Genting casinos may be shuttering poker rooms completely, due to both the economic losses suffered during the pandemic and the safety realities going forward.

Look for this kind of ebb and flow between positive and negative news, in terms of poker rooms reopening, to continue for the near future. The worrisome thing is that all of the good news seems to be written in pencil, while all of the bad news is being etched in ink.

Dan’s Plan

You have to give credit to professional poker legend Daniel Negreanu for giving folks something to talk about during these difficult times for poker players. In fact, he’s taking bets that even those who have never played a hand of Hold ‘Em might be able to enjoy it, at least if they want to bet against Negreanu.

First of all, he’s offering 2 ½ to 1 odds that he will win a bracelet in a World Series of Poker bracelet this year. (In other words, the bettor would be putting $2.50 at risk for every dollar Negreanu does). This includes any bracelets won in the online sphere, where it was recently announced a total of 85 will be up for grabs. And if the live World Series of Poker does somehow take place later this year, those bracelets would also count for the bet.

Not liking your odds there. Negreanu is also offering up an even-money bet pitting him against any player of your choice. The determining factor, again, would be WSOP bracelets in 2020.

Poker Player Daniel Negreanu

In other words, if Negreanu wins one and the specified player doesn’t, Negreanu wins the bet. If the specified player wins one and Negreanu doesn’t, you win. And if both or neither win one, it’s a push.

Lest you think that nobody would engage in such a crazy thing, Negreanu said that the has already reached his $100,000 maximum for even-money bets with fellow poker pros Connor Drinan and Ali Imsirovic. There is definitely action taking place.

We’ll keep an eye on this going forward in terms of how the betting shakes out. And we’ll also be watching Negreanu closely one the first WSOP online events start taking place at the beginning of July.

That will do it for this week! But we’ll be back next week with all the biggest poker news.