Feds close internet poker sites PokerStars and Full Tilt

Apr 19, 2011 6:07 AM

The full impact of last week’s federal indictments aimed at three Internet poker sites may not be visible for months, but the first impressions are that there is good news and there is bad news.

The bad news has been so very obvious as the sites operated by Full Tilt, PokerStars and Ultimate Bet were shut down following the indictments engineered by the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

Countless thousands of U.S. poker players were plunged into a what-do- I-do-now fame of mind as they considered the few alternatives. In some cases they headed for the nearest casino where they would find live games.

"There is absolutely going to be an increase in live game business,"

said a poker executive involved with some of the poker television specials in which Full Tilt and PokerStars have played sponsorship roles.

Is this true? I asked an unofficial but reliable source in the MGM Resorts poker operation.

"Absolutely," he said. "We’ve got games going we haven’t even seen in a while and we’ve had some $200-$400 and $400-$800 limit games going just about around the clock. These are players who like to stay busy and if the plug on their home computers has been effectively pulled then their only option it to get out to the casino."

A spokesman with Boyd Gaming acknowledged evidence of a slight uptick in poker room activity at its Las Vegas card rooms but also cautioned it is too early to say it is attributable to last week’s federal court action.

"It will probably be at least a few weeks before we can look more closely at any of the trends and decide what factors are driving them," he said.

"Don’t let anyone kid you," my TV executive friend said. "The Internet has been a huge driver of new business for poker and when you shut several of the biggest sites down, people don’t simply lose their interest in poker. They want an outlet, a place where they can get some satisfaction."

Interestingly, Doyles Room, the website bearing the ubiquitous name of poker legend Doyle Brunson, appeared to still be up and running as recently as Monday. There was no immediate explanation for why it may have been exempted from the charges that shut down much of its most serious competition.

 Which brings us back to the fact that the long term impact of the indictments, which so far seem to have exempted poker personalities connected with these sites, may not be fully apparent for weeks, even months.

But the World Series of Poker – it is scheduled to begin in late May at the Rio – will almost certainly take a serious hit in terms of the number of participants in its Main Event.

The number of $10,000 entries won by players participating in small money Internet tournaments and satellites around the world has contributed anywhere from a third to about half of Main Event entries. There were 7,319 entries in the 2010 finale won by Jonathan Duhamel.

"There is no question this will have an impact on the World Series," explained a source familiar with the event. "The Internet has had a big impact. Look at the Chris Moneymaker story. He played his way into the Main Event winning a $39 online satellite. He’d have never made it to Las Vegas if he had been forced to reach into his own pocket for that money."

 Most of the personalities associated with big time poker participate – and draw crowds – because of the drawing power of their celebrity. Their participation in tournaments like the World Series is because websites underwrite them.

 Sponsorship fees paid by Full Tilt and PokerStars may also be lost. But that is still to be determined as lawyers and tournament executives begin poring over the fine print associated with their agreements.

One apparent casualty will probably be the Onyx Cup Tournament that was to be played during May at one of the MGM properties. Full Tilt was a sponsor, just as Full Tilt is also a sponsor of NBC’s "Poker After Dark" show, which is seen five or six nights a week.

This show has been filmed in Las Vegas but has also been distributed in Europe. It remains to be seen whether sponsorship fees will be seen as a worthwhile continuing investment if the company does not have access to U.S. poker players.

See Stan Bergsteins article on feds closing internet poker sites