Pure poker companies like PokerStars and Full Tilt have been spending a small fortune lobbying the US federal government, trying to make the argument that their particular form of gambling is based more on skill than on chance. These companies offer up legal opinions bolstering this skill argument. As such, they feel the game should be viewed more favorably than other forms of gambling. Specifically, they want banks, credit card processors and the Dept. of Justice to treat them like any other business.
There’s nothing inherently dishonest about the pure poker companies’ argument. Poker is largely a game of skill. It’s why there’s such a thing as a poker professional. You can make a living – often a very good living – playing poker as an occupation. But that doesn’t make poker unique in the world of gambling. Far from it.
Sports betting is heavily dependent on skill, as evidenced by the people who have made careers out of wagering on athletic contests. The most celebrated of these, Billy Walters, is scheduled to appear on this Sunday’s 60 Minutes. After ducking producers for two decades, CBS correspondent Lara Logan managed to track down the man Las Vegas odds makers refer to as “the most dangerous sports bettor in the history of Nevada.”
Walters once bet $3.5m on a Super Bowl — and won. He once won $1m on a single round of golf — $400k on a single hole. He’s also lost millions. But he always bounces back. As Walters puts it, “I’ve had losing weeks… losing months… [but] never a losing year.” As proof of his long term success, Walters can point to his seven homes and his $20m jet.
Ironically, some of Walters’ biggest losses came from dealing with a far more socially acceptable form of gambling – the stock market. Walters told his local CBS affiliate that he’d lost $12m in just four deals – WorldCom, Enron, Tyco and PurchasePro. Pressing the point, Walters says he “relied on audited financial statements from big six accounting firms, on analysts who looked at the companies and said everything was on the up and up … all four of these deals were total frauds.” Not for nothing does Walters believe that “on Wall Street, in one millisecond, there’s more dishonesty than has taken place in the entire history of sports betting, poker and casino gambling.”
Regardless of Walters’ view, the ongoing campaign against the eCom of pure poker companies is proof that the US gov’t does not really care if gambling – in whatever form — is skill-based or not. Attempting to convince them otherwise is a waste of resources. What the online gambling industry needs is to convince large international financial institutions to process US residents’ desire to conduct business with legitimate international gaming companies — at least, as readily as these institutions process stock market trades.