February marks the heart of winter in northern climes, a time of deep chill when the snow shoveling becomes onerous and windshields can crack from the cold. The days are short and cabin fever builds. Perhaps that's why much of the news from February seemed so gloomy, even if there were some very bright moments, as the WSOP's announced expansion into Europe showed. Still, several important sites either downsized or bid the U.S. adieu in what turned out to be the year's nadir for poker news, all of which was important, if not necessarily joyous. Here's what happened as the dark month trudged on:
Harrah's Announces WSOP Europe — Poker's most important series turned its eyes overseas with the February announce of the World Series of Poker Europe, to be held at three different London casinos in December. While the series itself was modest, including only three events, the main event starting September 10th would offer a pricey £10,000 buyin, roughly twice that of the traditional Vegas Main Event. As the year progressed, the WSOP's Europe launch would attract a selection of the world's biggest poker stars, each of whom made their plans to try to become part of a new chapter in poker history.
Doyle's Room Exits U.S. — Perhaps the most interesting 'closure' story regarding the UIGEA and American players was that of Doyle's Room, the namesake site of poker legend Doyle Brunson. Despite ardent avowals that Doyle's Room would continue to serve U.S. players, the site was left without a software provider when its network host, Tribeca, ended its own connectivity to U.S. players weeks ahead of a planned late-March pullout. Doyle's Room sold its U.S. customer base and account balances to Full Tilt as it attempted to remain in business, though a second twist and a return to the U.S. market by the room would occur later in the year.
Jamie Gold Lawsuit Settled — The lawsuit filed by Bruce Crispin Leyser against 2006 WSOP Main Event winner Jamie Gold came to a sudden and somewhat anticlimactic end early in the month. The writing was on the wall when the presiding judge in the case, Roger L. Hunt, advised Gold and his attorneys after a December hearing that there was sufficient evidence to support the alleged agreement between Leyser and Gold and that Leyser was likely to prevail in his claim for $6 million (half of Gold's winnings), should the case go to trial. Exact terms of the settlement have, to date, never been publicly disclosed.
Tribeca Merges with Playtech, Exits U.S. — Mergers, acquisitions, and exits from the U.S. market were all in the news as February rolled on, and Tribeca had as busy a month as any. Fresh off its merger with the old Tain network, Tribeca then entered into a merger with Playtech, and this entire new comglomerate of skins exited the U.S. market at the end of the month. The new combined network included over 200 skins, with some of the largest, including Doyle's Room, being forced to exit the U.S. against their wishes.
European Union Challenges U.S. Online-Gambling Stance — An important European Union official, EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, announed early in February that the EU was likely to file its own complaint against the U.S. over America's protectionist stance regarding Internet gambling, a reaction to the huge market hit taking by major European gaming concerns when the UIGEA went into law. The EU's market muscle threatened to put the U.S. to a financial decision that Antigua & Barbuda's similar complaint simply could not, until late in the year when the EU's complain was negotiated away.
Venetian, Wynn Poker Series Announced — The battle for poker dollars in the Vegas was kicked up a notch when both the Venetian and Wynn casinos announced competing poker series in early February. The Wynn Classic offered several pricey events that included a $10,000-buyin finale, while the Venetian catered to players searching for a different sort of value with its Deep Stack Extravaganza offerings, which offered 19 consecutive days of events with affordable buyins and a flat structure that offered plenty of opportunity for play.
Paradise Downsizes, Joins Boss Network — Perhaps no room was hit harder by the effects of the UIGEA's enactment than Paradise Poker. The Sportingbet PLC-owned site saw roughly 75% of its traffic wiped from its servers overnight when the publicly traded, UK-based company came to the decision that it could no longer accept U.S. customers. That loss of players sent Paradise below critical mass, and in early February the site announced that it would downsize and become a skin on Boss Media's International Poker Network. It was a rough ending to the standalone run of one of the oldest and largest of all online poker sites.
Playboy Does Poker, Too — Here's one for the guys. In early February, Playboy announced that it would soon have its own online poker site, a skin on the Cryptologic network. The Playboy site was the first among several mainstream businesses that decided to wed their brand names to online poker during the year. The irony, of course, was that this most American of brand names was unavailable to U.S. players.