In an oddly optimistic press release following the passage (and pending signing) of legislation regarding financing of online gaming and poker accounts, World Poker Tour Enterprises added their thoughts to the current situation recently. In the communiqué, WPTE encouraged poker players worldwide to focus on the bright future ahead for poker instead of the downsides of the current legislation.
With the passage by Congress of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 last week, "The Justice Department has been very clear that it believes online gaming to be illegal in the United States and our policies have been always been tailored accordingly," said Adam Pliska, General Counsel of WPTE. "This law clarifies the rules and makes it possible for everyone to move forward on an even footing."
Steve Lipscomb also added his bright outlook when he commented, "It was a wide-spread love of this game and the reinvention of poker as a televised sport that ignited the poker phenomenon and that is what will continue to drive the future of the sport. WPTE remains committed to growing the domestic poker market through traditional franchise opportunities like consumer products, sponsorship and events."
While WPTE will not be directly affected by the recent legislation (their online poker site has always refused American action as they are an American company), the bright outlook the company is espousing is strange at the minimum. Part of the drive that has brought many to the poker community has been the advent of online poker. People who may have played only a few times a year on vacation trips to gaming Meccas could play at any point with the online game. This added to their excitement for the game and also allowed them to become proficient enough to be able to battle against some of the greatest players in the world.
Another factor to consider on this front is the effect that the loss of online satellites will have on tournaments in the future. Both the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker have seen tournament fields explode due to the opportunity of players to earn their way into events through inexpensive online satellites. In 2005, of the 5619 players who came to the felt, PokerStars alone sent almost twenty percent of the field to the Championship Event of the World Series. Poker historian and "jack of all trades" Nolan Dalla emphasized this point when he discussed his thoughts on the ramifications of the online legislation and noted with sadness that future tournament participation will actually fall as these online satellites are eliminated.
While many might like the departure of online players from B&M tournaments, it is extremely possible that the tournament poker scene could revert back to the point where only the richest (and, in some cases, the best) poker players can afford to participate. The potential dream of an online qualifier vanquishing the best in the world (such as the startling Chris Moneymaker breakthrough at the 2003 WSOP) will vanish and the sharks will once again have to compete amongst each other. We could be potentially looking at tournament fields falling now instead of showing the steady increases of the past few years (and, in the case of the WSOP Main Event, massive increase) and slowly falling back to levels of the pre-Internet days, where only those who can afford it or can qualify in live satellites make the fields.
Even though there are an estimated 50 million poker players in the U. S. alone and casinos adding poker rooms left and right, most Americans aren't within a two hour drive of those rooms. This is one of the reasons that the online game is necessary. It gives Joe Sixpack the opportunity to participate in an American pastime, potentially earn his way to a major tournament and, if the stars align, make a significant change in their life. These are a few of the reasons that this writer feels the WPTE's rosy look at the online legislation is puzzling, to say the least.