In the fight for the rights of online poker players in Minnesota, PokerXFactor.com instructor and St. Paul resident Chris “Fox” Wallace has taken a stand, calling for the Justice Department to arrest him if playing online poker is illegal.
Wallace’s actions follow written notice served to some of the country’s largest internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Charter, Qwest, and AT&T. The notices, which were authored by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and received on Monday, call for 200 internet gambling websites to be inaccessible by the state’s residents. Appearing on the list of affected sites were U.S.-friendly rooms Bodog and Full Tilt Poker along with a bevy of online poker establishments that do not accept customers from the United States. The latter group includes Action Poker, CD Poker, Noble Poker, Mansion Poker, and Titan Poker. It also includes the title sponsor of the 2009 World Series of Poker (WSOP), Everest Poker, whose logos will don tables in the Amazon Room at the Rio for the second straight year. The Department of Public Safety is also calling for companies to block telephone access to the sites’ support numbers.
Wallace told his hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, last week, “I have e-mailed the Justice Department and I’ve volunteered to be arrested. I play online poker. Come and get it.” He revealed that he faces a potential loss of $2,000 per week. If the ISPs successfully block the sites in question, he not only would potentially be unable to play online, but also would be barred from browsing any of the domain’s pages. David Axtell, an attorney at Leonard Street and Deinard in Minnesota, told the Star-Tribune, “This is an old law put in place before the Internet and there may be an argument that it doesn’t cover Internet service providers.”
The law in question is the Wire Act, which was passed in 1961 and has historically applied only to online sports betting. Many question whether the age-old law is applicable to online poker, casino, and Bingo games; each genre of internet gambling had sites appear on the list of 200 released last week. Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Chairman Joe Brennan questioned the Government’s professionalism in generating its list. According to a statement found on iMEGA’s website, Brennan explained, “We question how much thought was put into the selection of these sites. To propose censoring Minnesota residents’ Web access and not to know which sites are even in the U.S. market makes me wonder just how seriously the Department of Public Safety is taking this action. It comes off as a half-baked attempt at intimidation rather than thoughtful enforcement.” The list of 200 was generated randomly without regard to what type of internet gambling each site was engaged in.
Other websites that are affected include Betfred, Betway, Bet U.S., Crazy Poker, Euro Poker, Gnuf’s online casino arm, Hollywood Poker, Intertops Casino, Players Only, Total Poker, Ladbrokes Casino, and Party Casino. Publicly traded companies on the London Stock Exchange own the latter two sites. At the time of writing, neither had written statements about the Minnesota internet gaming issue given to the Exchange. Party Gaming entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Government last month and agreed to pay a $105 million fine. In the process, it admitted to processing transactions from U.S. customers using third parties, which was “contrary to certain U.S. laws.” Upon passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, Party Gaming exited the market.
ISPs have up to three weeks to respond to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The state has legalized Indian casinos, card rooms at horse racing tracks, and a lottery that features second chance drawings online. Next week may see Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduce legislation to clarify or overturn the UIGEA. The bill, which was originally scheduled to be introduced in March, may outline a complete licensing and regulatory framework for the industry similar to last Congressional session’s HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act.