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2015 – The Year in Poker, Part 3: The Weird World of Poker Off The Felt

As we enter the final week of the year 2015, it is time to take a look back at some of the great moments of the past year and maybe even some of the less popular times.

If there is one thing that is known about the world of poker, it is that there can be some weird, wild and abnormal news that comes out regarding the game. Whether it is involving the players or a particular game or situation, the game of poker always seems to provide fodder. A quick look over the last 12 months will give everyone a chance to remember these times.

In a case that would take up much of the early half of 2015, businessman/high stakes poker player Paul Phua and his son were denied the right to return to the poker tables by a Las Vegas circuit court judge in January. Citing the charges against Phua and his son, Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman called Phua “a danger to the community, especially the casinos” in denying the two men the right to gamble in a Las Vegas casino. What made this particularly rich is that, in some ways, the federal agents investigating the Phua case were somewhat more criminal than Phua was.

As more evidence came out during the discovery phase, the methods that federal agents used to infiltrate Phua’s villas at Caesars Palace in July 2014 came under fire. By cutting the internet capabilities of the villas that Phua was in, federal agents were able to enter and clandestinely video that there “might have been” a massive bookmaking ring being run out of these villas for the 2014 World Cup. When they obtained the warrant to raid the villas, these federal agents didn’t inform the judge granting the warrant that their methods might have violated privacy laws, which would have seen the judge prohibit them from using the videos to obtain search warrants.

This situation would eventually rise up to crush the government’s case. Twice in the case – in February and again in April – two judges saw that the evidence uncovered through the usage of the warrant obtained by the illegal interruption of internet service should be inadmissible and, in June, U. S. District Court Judge Andrew Gordon agreed, tossing out virtually the entire case against Phua (his son, by this point, had pled guilty to return to Malaysia). Lacking any evidence from federal prosecutors, the judge then summarily dismissed all the charges against Phua, who also returned to Malaysia where his mother was ill.

In February, poker professional/maybe online poker room operator Bryan Micon had his own travails, this time with the state of Nevada and the Gaming Control Board. Micon, who was one of the major proponents of the Bitcoin-currency online poker site SealsWithClubs, was the subject of a raid by NGCB authorities and Nevada law enforcement, who cuffed Micon and ransacked his house for eight hours and removed several computers and pieces of electronics. After being released, Micon immediately shut down SealsWithClubs and, along with his wife and daughter, jetted off to Antigua, where he reopened another Bitcoin-dependent site, SwCPoker.

Charges of illegal gambling were levied against Micon in April, basically giving the NGCB their first chance to enforce their regulations protecting their online poker industry. After first valiantly saying he would fight to the end, Micon quietly came back to the United States in June and plea-bargained to a lesser charge to stay out of jail. In November, that plea deal took effect, with Micon given two years’ probation and a $ 25,000 fine. Micon is reportedly serving that time in Nevada and, once the legal situation has been settled (his probation is ended), he will return to Antigua.

In March, the Tournament Directors Association – the group fronted by Matt Savage and featuring veteran TDs such as Linda Johnson and Savage himself – found themselves under fire for their 2015 TDA Summit. After the poker community learned that the Summit would be held at the Venetian – the land of anti-online poker kingpin and billionaire Sheldon Adelson – there was a vehement uprising against the TDA. Savage pointed out that, because the Venetian was willing to offer several perks to the organization to be there including some material for free, there wasn’t much of a choice.

The verbiage continued to escalate until Global Poker Index maven Alexandre Dreyfus stepped forward. In offering to support the costs of the Summit through the GPI, Dreyfus stated that the only rule would be that the conference would be held anywhere but the Venetian. Eventually the TDA Summit was held at Aria and, for the most part, was an outstanding two days of meetings for the tournament directors in the world of poker.

Online poker had its difficulties in the month of April. The online site Lock Poker disappeared from the industry after more than two years of problems in paying off players from the site. When the doors were closed in late April, it was conservatively estimated that it owed players in the neighborhood of $ 15 million. Also in April, several online poker sites – including the powerhouse PokerStars and the U. S. facing Winning Poker Network – were the victims of DDoS attacks, which flared up again from time to time as the year continued.

During the heatwave in June, Daniel Negreanu was concentrating his efforts on bringing an NHL expansion team to Las Vegas. If that weren’t strange enough, Vanessa Rousso decided to skip out on much of the World Series of Poker to compete on the reality show Big Brother (she would eventually finish third). As the month came to a close, the World Poker Tour was sold by to the Chinese conglomerate Ourgame for $ 35 million.

In mid-July, one of the venerable institutions of poker – at least since the boom of the early Oughts – shuttered its doors. Bluff Magazine, owned by Churchill Downs Inc., ended publication and pulled the plug on its website with no reason given as to the closure. Without Bluff, only the longtime poker industry standard CardPlayer Magazine and the schizophrenic All In Magazine remain in the industry.  

August brought news to the poker world that a 24/7 poker “television station” would be coming to the air in the fall. Poker Central, with an all-poker lineup and a cadre of poker professionals including Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu and Antonio Esfandiari supporting it, was looking to bring the world of poker to its fans as never before. When it dropped on October 1, however, it proved to be a little less than previously thought.

What was expected to be a 24/7 poker “television station” turned out to be a streaming channel more likely to be found on such devices as a Roku or a ChromeCast. Although Poker Central recently signed a deal with a cable provider who can push for its inclusion on cable networks’ lineups, it has yet to be actually aired over a cable or television network. Additionally, as 2016 approaches, there is talk of new programming that will be on the channel, but much of what is offered is old broadcasts of tournaments from the EPT and Europe as a whole.

In September, the long, national nightmare that everyone was waiting for with bated breath came to a close. After a long delay, Amaya Gaming and its online poker softwares for PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker were licensed for operation in New Jersey’s online gaming industry. While many thought that it was imminent that the arrival of PokerStars would be the punch in the arm the New Jersey gaming industry needed, the remainder of 2015 has gone by without nary a breath as to when PokerStars and Amaya gaming will open for business.

As the needles begin to fall off the Christmas tree, the end of 2015 is beckoning. But something that will never change is the oddities that occur in the poker world over the course of a year!

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