Tom Brady, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon headline a group of Hollywood stars, poker pros and celebrities who will be on the virtual felt Saturday at 2 p.m. EST to raise money for charity.
The stakes are high: It’s a $10,000 buy-in event, with unlimited re-entries. That means you can bust and keep buying back in. According to Ben Affleck, 100% of the proceeds go to charity, in this case, FeedingAmerica.org.
First off, that’s great. Can’t argue with 100% of proceeds going to charity. According to a release from the site, Americas Cardroom, the operators of the tournament will also be donating $1 million, and they’re inviting players to join in as well.
Furthermore, the presence of so many celebrities, with the games being streamed on Twitch, will undoubtedly lead many viewers and fans to join the site. After all, what else is there to do during these long weeks in quarantine?
Online poker has been thriving ever since coronavirus caused the world to shut down. All casinos across the country are closed, so many live players, including pros, have been stuck at home and have been hopping into online games. Early in March, many players decided they wouldn’t attend this year’s WSOP in Las Vegas, even though that still hasn’t been canceled.
Some of the other players expected to play the charity event, according to Americas Cardroom: Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Tobey Maguire, Adam Sandler, Adam Levine, Bryan Cranston, John Krasinski, Sarah Silverman, Jason Mewes, Doyle Brunson, and more.
Sounds good? Well, maybe.
ACR is an off-shore site hosted in Costa Rica, and describes itself as “U.S.-themed.” Online poker is only legal in four states: Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Take note: that doesn’t include California, Massachusetts or Florida, presumably where Affleck, Damon and Brady are sheltering in place these days.
The thing is, ACR definitely accepts U.S. players from other states. It’s well-known in the poker community that you can play there. That puts the site in seriously shaky territory. It was almost nine years ago to the day, April 15, 2011, that the Department of Justice shut down PokerStars, Ultimate Bet/Absolute Poker and Full-Tilt Poker for being in violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.
We call that day “Black Friday” in the poker world. Playing poker isn’t illegal, but the bill made it illegal for businesses to transfer money to and from gambling sites. On Black Friday, thousands of poker players lost not only their livelihoods, but their bankrolls. PokerStars players were able to withdraw their money within two weeks. FTP was later called a “global Ponzi scheme” by the DOJ, which claimed it owed players $390 million while it only had $60 million available.
It took three years for FTP players to get their money back, and it only happened because Stars bought the company and made the players whole. Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet took even longer, and didn’t start paying back players until 2017.
The worry among some poker people is that ACR could be the next site to get shut down.
Poker players, having already been burned by Black Friday, should know better, but Rinkema pointed out that casual players attracted to the site “probably don’t even understand the legality of it and how their money is not protected at all.”
One player even posted a meme likening the situation to Fyre Festival:
Incidentally, ACR has been plagued by scandal in the past. Last year, complaints of cheating by Russian bots on the site were rampant, and it took a series of investigative videos by “Chicago Joey” Ingram to get the site to take action and refund affected players.
Bottom line: Poker is a predatory game by nature. It’s worse than a zero-sum game because the operators (casinos and online sites) collect rake ( a fee from each hand, usually). The poker economy needs a constant stream of new players to keep it going. So any publicity, especially involving charity, is good for the growth of the game.
Short-term? Great for the game. Long-term? Could be another disaster for the poker world and everyone involved in the game.