Preet Bharara is a name that most online poker players in the United States will not soon forget. In his position as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he was the force behind Black Friday. He pursued online poker operators who continued offering services in America after the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed, and his actions resulted in the seizure of online poker sites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Ultimate Bet, and Absolute Poker. Indictments of the primary owners of those sites, along with several payment processors who facilitate online poker transactions, drove online poker out of the US.
The ripple effect from Bharara’s actions continued for years, as Full Tilt was discovered to be insolvent and ripe with unethical behavior on the part of many of its executives, UB and Absolute Poker players lost all funds, and years passed before PokerStars and the US government organized reimbursements to Full Tilt players. Meanwhile, the global online poker market suffered immensely, as did live poker as a result, and the industry has never been the same since Black Friday, April 11, 2011.
Anger at Bharara Often Misguided
It is fair to say that the online poker industry fell apart in the US in large part due to the actions of Bharara. He willingly pursued the industry, issued charges, and ensured the ousting of the prosecuted operators. Some anger at Bharara is justified and warranted.
However, Bharara’s actions were a result of the UIGEA, a bill specifically written and underhandedly passed to destroy internet gambling. Had pro-gambling efforts been successful in pushing for a responsible pro-online poker bill to make it through Congress to protect consumers and regulated the industry, Bharara would’ve had to abandon the case.
Nevertheless, Bharara was the face of the case against online poker, and that’s all some choose to see.
Fired from US Attorney Position
Over the past week, Bharara was on an interesting path to losing his job. President Trump’s administration – more specifically, the US Attorney General’s office under Jeff Sessions, issued a notice for 46 US attorneys to resign effective immediately. While this move is typical of new administrations, this situation was more abrupt than usual and void of replacements for the outgoing attorneys. In addition, Bharara’s case was different because he was assured by Trump himself that he would be able to keep his job because of his prosecutorial record. And because of that previous conversation with Trump, Bharara refused to resign.
Within the next 48 hours, Trump called Bharara and did, indeed, fire him.
I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 11, 2017
And it didn’t take long for the poker community to weigh in, as Mason Malmuth started a new thread on his Two Plus Two forum entitled “No More Preet Bharara, Thank-you AG Sessions.” His first post in the thread linked to an article by ABC News about the firing and read, “I believe this is great news for those supporting internet poker.” Even so, most of the responses in the thread indicated an awareness that the Trump administration is not supportive of online poker, and Sheldon Adelson’s assimilation into the administration is more likely to spell bad news for online poker in the long run.
I have tremendous respect for Preet Bharara even though he took down the online poker industry on Black Friday. He is a man of integrity.— Steven McLoughlin (@_tizzle) March 12, 2017
While it may feel good to call Bharara names and praise his new unemployed status, it is important to note that anyone who is tapped to replace him will likely share Sessions’ feeling on internet gaming, which seems to be dictated by Adelson himself. And the Trump administration is likely to do the will of Adelson if at all possible, due to his seemingly endless ability to fund campaigns.
Most Conservatives Differ with Adelson
Despite Adelson’s deep influence on the Trump administration, the majority of conservatives do not support Adelson’s effort to ban online gambling. Most conservative-leaning Americans believe that the government should have less influence over personal decisions and leave as many decisions as possible to the states themselves.
This was made clear by a recent survey by the Institute for Liberty. The group surveyed attendees at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with two questions about online gambling. The results showed that 90% of the respondents oppose any effort to ban online gambling as regulated by states, and they also agreed that the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) violates the Tenth Amendment regarding state’s rights and is “an example of crony capitalism.”
There is a chance that this type of broad sentiment about the issue could influence Sessions, a lifelong proud conservative politician. It could prompt Sessions to put online gambling on the back burner and hope it stays there, despite his previous declaration that the 2011 Department of Justice decision regarding the Wire Act be reviewed and possibly overturned. On the other hand, however, the Trump administration has shown that it is willing to buck the traditional beliefs of the Republican Party in order to fulfill promises to donors and other administration loyalists.
How this will play out is anyone’s guess. What is clear, though, is that Bharara’s ousting from his US Attorney position will have no effect on the future of online poker in America.