Archive for October, 2017

Second Wave of Absolute Poker Refunds Approved

 Second Wave of Absolute Poker Refunds Approved

A month ago, former Absolute Poker (AP) customers who had their funds stolen by the site’s owners when AP disappeared after Black Friday saw the first wave of refunds hit their bank accounts. Those people who did not receive their money but still submitted valid claims should be seeing their money in the near future. The Garden City Group (GCG), the Department of Justice-selected claims administrator, recently announced the second wave of payments has been approved.

The GCG wrote on its site that “within the next few weeks,” all those who submitted approved petitions will be notified via e-mail with the dollar amount they will be receiving plus the method of payment. Instructions will be included on how to submit banking information for electronic transfers.

Those who owe money to the government will also receive their money if their petitions were approved, but they will have money taken out to settle their outstanding debt. From the GCG message:

GCG will also be sending an email notice to certain Petitioners who were approved for payment and were identified as having a delinquent debt qualifying for collection through the Treasury Offset Program. Payments for these Petitioners will be reduced in order to satisfy their debt in part or in whole. To receive the balance of their payment, Petitioners must provide GCG with the information required to complete a Unified Financial Management System Vendor Request Form. Instructions on how to provide this information will be included in the email notice.

The GCG says that this upcoming round of payments will cover about 4,600 former Absolute Poker players and total approximately $ 3.7 million. Compare that to the first wave of payments, which totaled almost $ 33.5 million to 7,400 former customers of Absolute.

It came as a surprise to the poker community when it was announced in April that Absolute Poker and UltimateBet customers would be getting their money back. The two sister sites were already infamous because of ownership-led “super user” cheating scandals and when the sites just dropped off the face of the Earth after Black Friday in April 2011, people just kind of thought, “Figures.”

After the Black Friday indictments, PokerStars settled with the U.S. Department of Justice, paying hundreds of millions of dollars, an amount which included the purchase of rival Full Tilt Poker. PokerStars easily refunded U.S. players whose accounts were closed when PokerStars had to leave the U.S. market. Full Tilt, though, couldn’t pay people back because some of its owners intentionally used player funds to pay themselves (and Full Tilt had money moving through payment processors frozen). Part of PokerStars’ deal involved repaying Full Tilt customers, which took years, but eventually got done.

After the payments were made, there was enough money left over from the Full Tilt process to refund Absolute Poker and UltimateBet players. This process has been much faster, taking just months to get the first payments sent to bank accounts.

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Pennsylvania Governor Signs Online Gambling Bill

 Pennsylvania Governor Signs Online Gambling Bill

After last week’s frantic activity in the Pennsylvania state legislature, we expected this to happen, but nonetheless, it is a relief that on Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the gambling expansion bill that will, among other things, legalize online gambling, including poker.

The Pennsylvania Senate passed HB 271 on Wednesday by a 31-19 vote and the House passed it Thursday morning, 109-72, sending the gambling bill to Governor Wolf’s desk. It was expected he was sign it and he did not disappoint in that regard, announcing at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg on Monday that he did so.

Now legal in Pennsylvania are online poker, online table games, online slots, daily fantasy sports, and internet lottery sales. The law also authorizes tablet gaming areas in airports, video gaming terminals (VGTs) at qualified truck stops, and ten “satellite casinos.”

The topic of VGTs was particularly divisive, as the Senate for a long time did not want to allow them at all, as there was fear that a) VGTs would take business away from casinos, and b) they simply expanded gambling too far. The Senate eventually compromised with the House and VGTs were allowed at truck stops, a more limited expansion than the bars, restaurants, and private clubs that the House wanted.

As for online poker, the twelve land-based casinos in the state will get the first chance to apply for licenses. The application will be pricey: $ 4 million for online poker alone. Online table games and online slots require separate licenses at the price of $ 4 million each, as well. If a casino applies for all three licenses within 90 days, it can save money and pay $ 10 million total.

The tax rate will be 14 percent on gross gaming revenue plus an additional 2 percent local tax. That works fine, though the $ 4 million fee just for applying for a license could make some casinos and potential operators balk.

The biggest problem with the bill, as we have discussed before, is that the tax rate for online slots is the 2 percent local tax plus – get this – 54 percent on gross revenue. That’s right. Online slots will be taxed 56 percent. More than half. It was widely considered that this – combined with the separate $ 4 million application fee – will kill this part of the industry before it even starts.

New Jersey online gambling is taxed in the teens and the operators barely make a profit on slots. Yet supporters of the 54 percent (plus 2 percent) tax cite the same tax on brick-and-mortar casinos as the reason why online casinos should have no problem with it. They fail to understand, though, that physical casinos have revenue streams from restaurants, hotel, and shopping to lean on, while online operators have none of that.

We’ll see how that plays out. In the meantime, the wait now starts for online poker to actually launch in Pennsylvania. There is a 60-day waiting period before anything can start, but realistically, it will probably take the better part of a year to get things up and running, as all the regulations have to be put in place, operators need to be vetted, etc.

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2017 World Series of Poker Europe: Theodore McQuilkin Tops Six Handed Event, European “Colossus” and PLO Underway

 2017 World Series of Poker Europe: Theodore McQuilkin Tops Six Handed Event, European “Colossus” and PLO Underway

The King’s Casino in Rozvadov, Czech Republic, has been a hotbed of activity over the past week with the 2017 World Series of Poker Europe in action on its grounds. It’s about to kick up another notch as the European version of “The Colossus” hits full stride, while it is also time to celebrate as the fourth bracelet of the schedule has been awarded.

Event #4 – €1500 Six Handed No Limit Hold’em

After being advised not to play in the tournament because it would be a “tough field,” France’s Theodore McQuilkin decided to go ahead and win his first WSOP bracelet and a first-place payday of €88,043.

McQuilkin came into the final table on Saturday in the bottom half of the standings with his 754,000 in chips, better than only Maksym Shulga and Petr Setka. Leading the way was hometown favorite Jan Bednar, whose 1.761 million in chips was closely followed by Andrej Desset and Jerry Odeen. Sitting smack in the middle of the pack in fourth place was the dangerous Ognjen Sekularac, the Serbian pro who only has $ 1.45 million or so in career earnings in his pocket.

The seven men were not quite at the “official” final table, needing to knock off one more player, and they took their time determining that unfortunate soul. Surprisingly it was Sekularac, who had trouble gaining any traction in the first 90 minutes of action. After he saw Odeen open for a bet and McQuilkin call, Sekularac went for the squeeze by moving all in. Odeen was undaunted, moving his stack all in “over the top” and McQuilkin quickly got out of the way. Odeen was sitting on Big Slick, completely dominating Sekularac’s A-2, and the King-high board changed nothing as Sekularac surprisingly was out in seventh place.

That was the last time that McQuilkin would seemingly be on the losing end of a hand. Only five hands into the official final table, McQuilkin knocked off Shulga in sixth to thrust the Frenchman into the championship mix. He slowly built that stack up until, on Hand 77, he knocked off Odeen in fourth to take a dominant lead three handed. Even after Bednar eliminated Desset in third place, he was still a 2.5:1 underdog against the massive stack of McQuilkin.

Heads up would last all of two hands. On Hand 110, McQuilkin raised the action to 165K with pocket Kings and he got exactly what he had hoped for. Bednar woke up with a big hand himself, Big Chick (A-Q), and pushed all in, which was happily called by McQuilkin. The 10-8-5-9-A four-club board improved McQuilkin to the unnecessary nut flush as he sent Bednar home in second as McQuilkin seized the championship.

1. Theodore McQuilkin, €88,043
2. Jan Bednar, €54,410
3. Andrej Desset, €35,714
4. Jerry Odeen, €24,046
5. Petr Setka, €16,618
6. Maksym Shulga, €11,797

Event #5 – €500 “The Colossus” No Limit Hold’em

There’s already a huge buzz building around “The Colossus” and it hasn’t even reached the midpoint of its series of Day Ones.  Four flights have racked up 760 players to this point, with 44 of those surviving to be eligible to move on to Day 2 on Wednesday. With six more flights to build the field, it is completely illogical to even look at the leaderboard, but so far Konstantinos Misailidis (419,000) has come out of the carnage with the chip lead. Others so far in the mix for Wednesday’s play include John Racener (334,000), former “November Niner” Kenny Hallaert (206,000) and Racener’s fellow POY contender Alex Foxen (189,000).

Event #6 – €2000 Pot Limit Omaha

Day One of the highest Euro buy in event for Omaha saw 191 entries come to the tables, including many of the contenders for the POY race. When the tournament restarts on Sunday, 31 players will be in action, with current POY leader Chris Ferguson, Mike Leah and Racener in the mix. They will be chasing Liran Twito (802,000), whose stack thoroughly outpaces second place Pim van Holsteyn (627,000) atop the leaderboard.

Player of the Year Race

Although he came into the WSOP-E with a slim lead, Ferguson has been able to expand it during the first week of the schedule. With 1005.71 points, he is the only player over that threshold. Ryan Hughes (961.23) has passed John Racener (914.32) for second place on the rankings, while (an absent from the WSOP-E) John Monnette (865.21) and Alex Foxen (786.76) round out the Top Five (Foxen’s chances at the POY may be slim and none and slim is leaving the building).

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Florida Mayor Calls for ‘Decoupling’ of Racetracks and Poker Rooms

 Florida Mayor Calls for ‘Decoupling’ of Racetracks and Poker Rooms

The state of Florida has become a hotbed for poker. Whether it is tournaments or cash games, the thirst for the game is quenched in the casinos of the Seminole Indians and in approximately 15 card rooms around the state. For these card rooms to exist, however, they have to offer greyhound or horse racing and/or simulcasting for races across the country. But if a mayor in a local enclave has his way, greyhound racing will be ended and those tracks with poker rooms ‘decoupled’ from them.

Orange Park, FL, mayor Scott Land is calling for the action after the local greyhound track was hit with scandal. Bestbet Orange Park, one of the locations for greyhound racing in the Jacksonville area, has seen a trainer that has had 12 dogs under his tutelage test positive for cocaine in their systems. This brings the total number of such cases to 18 in the past four months alone. Even though Bestbet Orange Park (which is how Bestbet Jacksonville, the popular poker room that recently wrapped up the most recent World Poker Tour stop at the Bestbet Bounty Scramble, comes to be) has stated that the dogs are in good health and that “the system worked,” it hasn’t stopped Land for calling for the end of dog racing in the Sunshine State.

Citing the negative publicity regarding greyhound racing (and, in particular, this incident), Land says “it isn’t the image I want for the city.” He has already started talking with city leaders to redevelop the area should racing be closed but, with the current situation regarding the linking of racing and poker in the state, it would affect the economy of the area if both were closed. For some of the business in question, the only reason that there is a schedule of dog racing is for the ability to operate a poker room. Since that isn’t in the interest of the greyhounds’ health or well-being, Land is calling for the ‘decoupling’ of the two industries.

Since 2001, any poker room that has a card room license must have a full racing schedule offered (or offer simulcasting). If the races are offered, then 90% of the schedule must be run for the card room to keep its license. Over the past decade, however, there has been a significant drop in revenues from greyhound or horse racing that happens to coincide with consistently strong revenues from the card rooms.

For the Fiscal Year 2017 (which ended in June), the state of Florida saw gross revenues of $ 717,556,879 for the racing industry. While this may seem impressive, it is a drop compared to last year’s revenues ($ 740,622,947) and a drop of approximately 52% since poker started being dealt at the facilities in 2005. Poker room revenues were $ 156,311,014 at the close of the FY 2017, a 5.8% increase in year-to-year comparison.

Dog racing as a whole has seen a massive decline in the U. S. in the 21st century. Of the 19 tracks that are still in existence, 12 of them are in Florida and each of them has a poker room attached to them. There has been talk previous as to reducing the schedule of the dog tracks yet still allowing for the poker rooms to operate, but those discussions have proven to be fruitless. The state legislature is not likely to be up for another debate regarding gambling in the state, having recently come through a bruising battle with the Seminoles regarding their yearly payments to the state for exclusivity of casino gaming in the state.

With both industries pulling in significant revenues for the state, it isn’t likely that Florida legislators will be looking to put the kibosh on either one. Whether it is the dog racing that draws the poker players or vice versa (or perhaps each is separate?), for now the two industries will remain linked together. Should further malfeasance occur in the dog racing industry, however, that situation could change quickly.

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What Is the Path Forward for Online Poker After Pennsylvania?

 What Is the Path Forward for Online Poker After Pennsylvania?

The passage on Thursday of online gaming, poker, and daily fantasy sports (DFS) regulations in the state of Pennsylvania (among other gaming such as video gaming terminals and “mini-casinos”) was arguably one of the most surprising things to occur this year. Although they had been discussing it for upwards of two years, legislators in Pennsylvania almost were treating proposed gaming regulations as an afterthought rather than the revenue-provider that it could be. Thus, when they actually pulled the trigger and passed the legislation in a two-day span before the close of the legislative session, it was a bit surprising.

For Pennsylvanians looking to get their online action going, they’re going to have to cool their heels. The bill, HB 271, hasn’t been signed yet by Governor Tom Wolf (although that is thought to be a foregone conclusion) and, even after that signature is on the document, there will still be a lengthy period before the first cards are virtually pitched. There will be a 90-day period in which the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will be accepting licenses from qualified entities in the state. After that period has elapsed, then the next key date would be 120 days after that for accepting license applications from non-Pennsylvania gaming operations. With the state most likely wanting to let all entities start simultaneously (in the interest of fair competition), it could be nine months to a year before the Pennsylvania online gaming industry gets going.

Still, the passage of regulation by Pennsylvania is a cause for celebration. It is also a cause for looking out to see what is the path forward after Pennsylvania’s actions.

First, there’s a taxation issue that is facing Pennsylvania. While the online poker segment of their industry seems to have a fair taxation rate set (16%), the slots are being taxed at an exorbitant rate (54%) that may scare off potential operations from the state’s burgeoning industry. With the legislature looking to rack up plenty of money through the initial licensing (there are three platforms – online slots, table games and poker – that, if a company was to apply for all three, would cost $ 10 million; there are 12 licenses available for each…as George Clooney said in Ocean’s Eleven, you do the math), anything that might inhibit companies from getting in the game would be detrimental.

Second, a compact with Pennsylvania and the three states that have passed legislation back in 2013 – Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware – would be a watershed moment. With the Keystone State’s population equaling that of the “First Three” combined, a compact would double the numbers participating in some form of U. S. online gaming and/or poker. The problem lies in that Pennsylvania didn’t get in this game to share money with other states; they will more than likely want to see how their product is working (AKA seeing if it can be profitable on its own) before entertaining the thought of compacting. Thus, it could be two years or more before this happens.

Finally, which states would be the next to step up? Although Michigan has made some noise lately about wanting to have legislation done by Thanksgiving, New York has had legislation up for the past three years and even Illinois is re-examining the issue, there’s not a consensus as to who will push the legislation forward. Even California, which has been entertaining some form of online poker for the past decade, doesn’t appear to be any closer than these other states mentioned to passing significant legislation.

Just as it has been since the “First Three” passed the regulations in 2013, the crystal ball remains cloudy as to the future of online gaming and poker in the States of America. Hopefully with the passage of regulations in Pennsylvania, other states will not be as reluctant to step forward and open online gaming in their locales. If a couple more states fall (especially bigger ones like New York, Michigan or even California), then the floodgates may truly have opened.

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