March brought both a smattering of major poker events and plenty of news on the legislative front on both the state and national levels. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson won the most prestigious title of the month in capturing the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship, while Michael Schulze took down one of the spring's largest paydays at the EPT Polish Open. America's UIGEA was under attack throughout the month, and a controversial Massachusetts casino bill went down to a narrow defeat. These were the biggest stories of the month:
Ferguson Wins NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship
The third time was the charm for Chris "Jesus" Ferguson in early March as the 2008 NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship reached its conclusion. Ferguson reached the final in this exclusive 64-player, invitation-only event for the third time in four years, but had walked away as the bridesmaid in both 2005 and 2006. This time Ferguson walked away with the title by topping Andy Bloch in a best-of-three final. Bloch collected $250,000 as the runner-up. Phil Ivey and Huck Seed made the semifinals, while the celebrity news of the event was the run of perennial baseball All-Star Orel Hershiser into the quarterfinals.
UIGEA Besieged on Several Fronts
The United States' unpopular 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which sought to restrict financial transactions connected to online gambling sites, came under attack from several quarters during March. The European Commission, the judicial arm of the European Union, launched a probe into the UIGEA and its likely violation of trade agreements between the US and EU member countries. On the domestic front, the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA), saw its initial legal challenge to the UIGEA dismissed, but the organization was granted legal associational standing and the right to appeal. Additional, pressure from America banking groups, stressed by the unfunded mandate called for under the UIGEA, helped spur Congressional interest in the matter. A hearing on Internet gambling was held and several bills moved forward in an attempt to create a regulated American environment for online gambling. Finally, as the month drew to a close, conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute issued a "white paper" blasting the UIGEA's shortcomings and unworkable directives.
Michael Schulze Wins EPT Warsaw
The PokerStars.com European Poker Tour continued its busy schedule in March with the EPT Polish Open in Warsaw, and Germany's Michael Schulze topped Portugal's Ricardo Sousa to win $946,269. Sousa's deep run through the 359-player field was worth $536,276. Other notables in the final included Christian Öman, Juan Maceiras and Trond Eidsvig, who established record for most cashes and most final tables in a single EPT tour season.
Eric "Sheets" Haber Triumphs at WSOP-Circuit Atlantic City
The World Series of Poker Circuit series rolled into Atlantic City in the middle of March, and the main event went to a noted online player who successfully ventured into brick-and-mortar play. Eric "Sheets" Haber inproved on his 16th-place finish in the same event a year earlier to claim the championship ring and $431,136 in prize money. Haber outdueled early leader Dan Hicks ($237,124) after flopping a set of jacks on the tournament's final hand. Third place went to Sumeet Batra, while noted pros Nick Binger and Soheil Shamseddin also made the final table.
Massachusetts Casino Bill Defeated
Online poker players breathed a sigh of relief after a controversial plan to build three casinos in Massachusetts was narrowly defeated in an important committee vote. The plan was championed by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick as a means of generating tax revenue, but a provision inserted into the bill that criminalized online poker threw much of the poker world's opinion against the bill, and cost Patrick at least a small share of the public support he may have needed to make his bill a reality. While Patrick later announced his intent to resubmit another casino proposal, the measure's defeat left the nearby Foxwoods casino in Connecticut as New England's largest live poker destination.