The final ten days of the 2015 calendar year have been busy for poker’s all time tournament money leader Daniel Negreanu. Aside from being crowned The Most Popular Poker Player of The Year by The Hendon Mob database, the $32.3 million live tournament winner announced via Twitter on December 22 that his Bank of America bank accounts were suddenly closed.
Apparently Bank of America no longer wants my business. They are closing all my accounts because I put too much money in them from poker???— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) December 23, 2015
The story has been picked up by mainstream online poker news outlets, including online poker tournament rankings website PocketFives, which published a story by Bill Grinstead pointing out that Negreanu is not the only high profile poker player to be affected by what some would call “arbitrary” bank account closures due to depositing money derived from poker.
The PocketFives front page article mentioned that Haralabos Voulgaris, Doug Polk, and Ankush Mandavia (all prominent poker players) also claimed to have dealt with similar issues in the past — responding to Negreanu’s tweet after it was posted.
According to “Kid Poker,” a 41-year old Canadian who has been the headline Team PokerStars Pro for years, the bank account closures were part of a US Department of Justice program called Operation Choke Point — a US government-sponsored initiative that apparently investigates financial institutions for business activities related to industries that are perceived to be at a high risk of fraud.
Looks like "Operation Chokepoint" https://t.co/HkpsdLe0ei so bizarre— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) December 23, 2015
Online gambling is among the monitored industries — which essentially lumps online poker activity in with Ponzi Schemes and Racist Materials when it comes to businesses that are linked to a high risk of fraud by the US government.
More Questions for Legal Online Poker in US
Due to overlapping jurisdictions on a statewide and nationwide level in the United States, online poker’s status is still vague despite being legal in three states: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. While sites like WSOP.com, Partypoker and soon-to-launch PokerStars are confirmed by New Jersey state authorities to enjoy legal status within the Garden State, the federal stance of real money online poker laws is up for interpretation.
Perhaps the most similar situation of overlapping jurisdiction can be found in the states of Colorado, Alaska and Washington, where the recreational use of marijuana is allowed while still being technically illegal on a federal level.
The current scenario leaves US-based poker players and news websites that routinely promote the regulation of online poker in the US in limbo. It is great to see more states looking into the formal regulation of online poker games in America, but many obstacles remain for both players and affiliates before US online poker is free of a stigma that has followed it since its inception.
Bank Account Closures Are Bad for US Legal Online Poker
A bank account closure, or blockage, can be a frightening experience for any poker player, regardless of his or her skill or long term expectation.
This is especially true for US residents who currently compete in legal online poker games within Delaware, New Jersey or Nevada — who already fulfill requirements linked to Know Your Customer guidelines that have been adopted by statewide jurisdictions. For example, before a player can play a legal, real money online poker game in New Jersey, he or she must verify being physically located in the state and also prove legal online gambling age and even submit a Social Security Number (SSN) before accessing deposited funds.
Many US online poker industry representatives believe that these requirements are already enough to ward off potential fraud and underage gambling threats, yet Negreanu’s Bank of America plight may become more common among players in 2016. Imagine having a credit card blocked (without any notice from your financial institution), and then finding out hours later that ALL your accounts have been closed due to online poker activity.
This is precisely what happened to Kid Poker on December 22nd.
MasterCard just cancelled my credit card for no reason whatsoever… And I'm rich! How dumb are they? Haha.— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) December 23, 2015
More Clarity Needed for Legal Online Poker Framework
The road to regulated online poker in the United States has been a slow, grinding process that will hopefully open up to more statewide markets in the coming year.
Still, there is much work to be done to protect the players who compete in legal online poker games not only in the US but worldwide.
The ambiguous nature of having a particular activity 100% regulated within a state’s jurisdiction while having it outlawed on a federal level will continue to result in these types of unfortunate situations — and it’s up to players and industry representatives to strive for more legal clarity for regulated, real money online poker games in upcoming years.