BY RUSS SCOTT
RELEASE: MARCH 16, 2010
Readers Ask About Online Poker’s Status, High Tourney Fees
The legal outlook for online poker and a card room’s tournament fees are on readers’ minds this week. Let’s have a look.
Q: The new deadline for implementing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act is about two months away. What do you think will happen on June 1? — John S. in Moline, Ill.
A: I probably have a better shot at predicting this season’s American Idol winner than correctly guessing the future of online poker, John.
Enforcement of the UIGEA, pushed through by Republican lawmakers and signed by President Bush on Oct. 13, 2006, finally was supposed to kick in Dec. 1. Opponents, led by the Poker Players Alliance, won a six-month delay.
Just the threat of the UIGEA, which would penalize financial institutions that process online poker cash transactions, created a shockwave. Some processors stopped handling transactions before final regulations were set, and some players, fearful their online accounts might be seized or inaccessible, backed away from the game.
Since then, however, the impact has subsided. In fact, some offshore online sites that ditched U.S. customers have returned, and many online tournaments have set records for participation and purse sizes.
Full UIGEA implementation on June 1 — now considered likely based on fresh reports Thursday — could slow that momentum if frustrated players have trouble funding accounts.
Last week, PPA executive director John Pappas told Card Player.com his group would again petition to delay UIGEA implementation. “We’re going to work just as hard as we did for the last petition and actually twice as hard, because our opposition won’t be caught flat-footed this time,” he told reporter Stephen A. Murphy.
While this tug-of-war is playing out, forward movement continues on the bill introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who also is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The bill, which has more than 65 co-sponsors, would regulate U.S. online poker, shelve the UIGEA, and provide billions for the cash-strapped federal budget.
A Dec. 3 hearing before Rep. Frank’s committee did not include a vote on the bill. The next step appears to be a congressional mark-up, something Pappas is “optimistic” will happen this spring.
It’s sort of like a race, John. We’ll see what happens at the finish line.
Meanwhile, look for Siobhan Magnus to edge Crystal Bowersox in the American Idol finale!
Q: A weekly deep-stack tournament is the best thing to come to our local poker scene since I moved here nine years ago, but the house rake and payout structure are a nightmare. I’ve complained, but I could use your help. — Bruce C. in Cambridge, Ill.
A: As you noted, Bruce, this tournament has many positives: deep starting stacks, reasonable blind levels, 40-60 players each week, very good dealers and an efficient floor staff running things.
The negatives? “There’s too much rake for the house,” you wrote, “and the payouts are obscenely top-heavy, with the winner taking 45 percent of the pool. That’s way out of line.”
I had similar thoughts when I played in three smaller buy-in events there. For example, in a $40 buy-in tourney I played, $30 of each entry went into the prize pool — a 25 percent withholding.
A card room spokesman explained Thursday that regardless of a tournament’s buy-in amount, $5 is withheld for the house and $5 for the dealers. That means the percentage of “juice” changes dramatically for the $80 Sunday tournament you mentioned. By putting $70 of every $80 buy-in into the prize pool, the total withheld is just 12.5 percent, half of which goes to the dealers, the spokesman said.
That actually makes the Sunday tournament a better deal in the percentage of money paid to winners than the cheaper events.
The top-heavy payout structure is a throwback to poker’s pre-boom days when many tournaments awarded 75 percent or more of the prize pool to the final three players. Much more common today is a flatter payout schedule giving 25-30 percent to the winner and bigger slices to lower in-the-money finishers.
Like you, I prefer a flatter payout system, but many players enjoy shooting for the bigger top-end payoff. By the way, a side effect of top-heavy payouts is a greater tendency to negotiate a “chop” when just a few players remain, thus ending the event faster than normal.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
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