'A lot of people are freaking out about this Internet thing' the man who was the Senior Vice President of Atlantic Records at the time told me. I had been the President of a subsidiary Atlantic label for less than a year, and it was clear to some of us that our world was about to change – a whole lot. The music business was under siege by something most of the people at the top of the industry didn't understand. All over the country, "horrible" people were….stealing music….through their computers. Just like a few Senators in Washington now believe many "horrible" people are doing by playing poker - through their computers.
Just like the poker business is now, the music business was smack dab in the middle of a boom at the time. After years of trying, the music industry had finally gotten the world to fully embrace a format change with the arrival of the Compact Disc. Everyone was buying all the records they had ever loved all over again, and sales were up, up and up, with no end in sight. Sound familiar?
So, the fat cats of the music business were more consumed with 'gaining market share' than protecting their product, and the price the industry paid for taking their eyes off the prize was nearly fatal. Had the music industry honchos taken the initiative and tried to create a solution the first time a staffer walked into their office and said 'This could be a problem', many of the people who had jobs 10 years ago might still have jobs.
With the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act last week, the dawn of the 'Napster Era' is now fully upon us in the poker business. I do not pretend to be a lawyer or political analyst, but it seems the law that passed Congress last week might have some holes in it. These holes may allow the business to continue at some level until a permanent solution can be created that finally solves this issue in one direction (a true ban on online gaming), or the other (legalization, taxation, and regulation).
Should the poker business have done something prior to it coming to this? Of course. Just like the music business, the poker business could have prevented, or at least had meaningful lasting discussion of these issues with the people in Washington prior to this legislation being passed. But unlike the illegal downloading that crippled and ultimately changed the music business forever, this law doesn't have to cripple online poker in the U.S.
The poker business should be on full notice right now that this issue must be resolved one way or the other, and we cannot wait until the next time a Senator feels the need to shore up his or her conservative base to act. Grassroots programs like the one carried out by the Poker Players Alliance are great and can be really helpful, but it is the industry leaders who wield the true power, and must act. Things are not OK because a few poker rooms have stated they will continue to take US players. This is the time for the big companies in the poker world to put aside their competitive differences and work together to create a lasting and practical solution.