A Look Back at Black Friday
Everything seemed normal on the morning of April 15, 2011. I was exhausted, but that’s to be expected when you commute to LaGuardia from Brooklyn for an 8 a.m. flight. The M60 bus was filled with casual travelers and businessmen, and when it pulled up to my terminal I felt like an NFL running back trying to get off. Eventually I squeezed out, grabbed my ticket, got through security, and found my window seat on the plane.
My cousin was getting married in Orlando, Florida, and when I landed, my dad picked me up in a rental — he and my Mom had flown down a few days earlier to hang out with family. I dropped my stuff off at the hotel, and we all went to brunch at a nearby IHOP. Finally, when we returned to the hotel around 1:30 p.m., I was able to grab a nap.
I’ve never been a good napper, nor can I power nap. I always sleep too long and enter my REM sleep cycle. So, when I woke up to my alarm that Friday, I was really groggy. Zombie-like, I reached for my phone to turn off my alarm, and the first thing I did was check Twitter. Initially, I thought people were just messing around, or that I was still dreaming. There was no way that any of this could actually be true. I quickly reached into my backpack for my laptop and pulled it onto the bed. I opened Safari, typed “PokerStars.com” into the browser head, and hit enter. The hotel Internet was pretty crappy, and initially all I saw was the dreaded rainbow pinwheel of death, but after a few seconds I was confronted by the seals of both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.
The world had ended in my sleep.
For the next hour, I was glued to my computer screen, reading legal documents, threads, tweets, and Facebook statuses. Nobody knew what was next. My phone went off with a text from my dad: “You ready?”
“Almost,” I responded, then raced to shower and put my suit on.
One year later, I can safely say that we made it. Life without PokerStars and FTP is a bit unsatisfying, and the players with money stuck on FTP are probably big dogs to get their money back, but nonetheless we’ve survived. As Robert Frost once wrote, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”
Don’t get me wrong, the road hasn’t been easy, and good people have lost their jobs (whether it be because they can no longer grind or their employer was funded by sponsorship dollars). But the industry as a whole did not crash, the World Series of Poker (the ultimate litmus test) was larger than ever, and regulation is coming.
My colleagues here at PokerNews are doing an excellent job with the Black Friday Chronicles — my favorite thus far is the timeline Chad Holloway put together, chronicling the events from April 15, 2011 to today. When the indictments came to light, panic spread across the United States. And rightfully so, because Americans had an estimated $500 million stuck online at the time. PokerStars promptly cut a deal with the DOJ and took care of their players, while FTP did not, and in the months since we’ve come to find out why.
Poker players who had the money and the liberty to do so, moved abroad. The vast majority — who have neither — stayed home and sulked. While some networks still allow U.S. players, it’s not the same, nor does it appear as safe. We’re stuck waiting. Waiting for representation. Waiting for legislation. Waiting to play the game we love in the comfort of our own home.
Martin Harris, who is a good friend and one of my all-time favorite writers in the industry, wrote a very thoughtful piece over on the Betfair Blog about the anniversary of Black Friday, and he concludes with a question; was Black Friday an end or a beginning? And it’s a very valid question. In a vacuum, it was certainly an end, and the panic expressed over Twitter and Facebook on the day of is a strong example of this. It was the end of the world as we know it — how could we survive without PokerStars and FTP?
In the age of instant everything, we tend to lack foresight. Myself included. It’s too easy to get caught up what’s happening right now, and forget about what’s coming tomorrow or the next day. We can just deal with that day when it comes. Now, hours feel like days, and days feel like weeks. If somebody doesn’t respond to a text or a direct message within 24 hours, it feels like an eternity. Or impatience levels are at an all-time high, while patience is probably the one thing we need moving forward.
Regulation is coming (I’m starting to sound like a Stark). Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but it’s coming. It will take some time, and it will start on an intrastate level, but eventually we will return to business as usual. To the grinders who have relied on online poker as their main source of income for the better part of the last decade, this news is disconcerting. Recreational players aren’t happy either, but something is better than nothing, and insiders speculate that once online poker is legal and regulated, a second boom may be on the horizon.
One year ago, everything changed, but we changed with it. Black Friday was not the end of poker, rather it was another chapter in its long, storied history. The game will go on, no matter what obstacle stands in its way.