Friday, March 19, 2004

Online Poker in the NY Times

Alex from Prom on Mars sent me this article: Online Poker: Hold 'Em and Hide 'Em written by Ian Urbina. Here's a bit:
Ben sleeps five hours a night; the rest of the time he sits at his desk in his Brooklyn apartment playing online poker. He won $55,000 one recent evening, but in his tireless ambition for the $2.5 million world championship, this mild-mannered college graduate has become an outlaw in hiding and a twisting thorn in the side of Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general.

Ben quit his teaching job five months ago and now makes around $100 an hour. Five days a week, he clocks 10-hour shifts of Texas Hold 'Em on his Dell laptop computer. With reggae in the background and coffee mug in hand, he studies his competitors who sit in London, Copenhagen, Los Angeles and elsewhere, while the dealer in Costa Rica tosses cards.

A couple of blocks away, a slightly less-skilled friend of Ben's named Jimmy also works busily. While Ben plays high-stakes tournaments with pots topping $70,000, Jimmy is what is known as a "grinder" - he works the smaller virtual tables, specializing in cheaper and less risky play, but keeping three games going at all times, nickel and diming his way to decent earnings. In the past four months, Jimmy says that he made $30,000.

Ben and Jimmy would only speak to a reporter if their last names stayed out of the newspaper. That's not surprising, because they are the human faces on the wrong end of Mr. Spitzer's public campaign to shut down the hugely profitable online gambling industry.

Although they asked for anonymity, the two men say they are not hugely worried about Mr. Spitzer's campaign, despite the attorney general's relative success.

To spend the afternoon with these players is to enter a world where, at any hour and with a little luck and a touch of skill, decent wages can be had without ever changing out of one's pajamas or leaving the comfort of one's own couch. But to get there means venturing just across the border of legality. Since 2002, Mr. Spitzer has succeeded in getting more than 10 major financial institutions, including Citibank and PayPal, one of the largest Internet money transfer companies, to stop processing gambling transactions. But he has been unable to prosecute the Web site operators, most of whom are offshore, and hard pressed to arrest online gamblers because they are dispersed all over. Instead, he has tried to seal off the financial pipeline connecting the two.
A great read for sure.

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