As the hearings between the Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) and Full Tilt Poker drag on without seemingly a decision, many in the Canadian government and legal system are seeing the potential collapse of the company as a way to potentially open up online poker legally for Canadian customers.
An article at Canada.com written by Teresa Smith examines the Full Tilt case and how it could be what she calls an “ace in the hole” for potential regulation by the Canadian government. Smith points out that, currently in many areas of the country, it is illegal to partake of online gaming options, including poker, unless it is offered through the provincial government. Smith also speaks to some of the major players in the Canadian gaming industry and attorneys who have been watching the Full Tilt Poker case.
Smith quotes Tony Bitonti, a spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming commission, as stating that – if online poker was run by an authorized provincial or Canadian government operation – “People know they’re going to get paid.” Smith notes that, between 2003 and 2008, the Canadian online gaming industry grew from $184 million to $675 million, with much of that money leaving the country. “Ontarians are spending $400 million per year online, none of which goes back into Ontario communities,” Bitonti states in the article.
In areas that have a legalized online gaming regulatory board – such as Loto-Quebec or the British Columbia Lottery Corporation – there are several advantages to having such regulations. Beyond just being able to pay the players, Loto-Quebec’s president Alain Cousineau sees the ability to help problem gamblers, saying, “Online gambling sites obviously do not offer an assistance program for vulnerable players, which leaves the state to pick up the costs of problem online gambling without reaping any benefits.”
The BCLC’s PlayNow.com, BC’s only legal poker site, is also pointed out as an excellent example of how to regulate the online gaming industry. Gaming attorney Christine Duhaime states that the BCLC has been “very successful” and adds, “The money stays here, taxes get paid, there’s very little risk of money laundering and the money gets put back into programs for people addicted to gambling.” She also says the BCLC has gone to great lengths to ensure that underage gambling doesn’t occur, something she states is “rampant” on unregulated sites.
Touching on a story from Canada Poker, Smith also examines the Canadian class action lawsuit that is currently in the courts against Full Tilt Poker. The Consumer Law Group is at the helm of this suit and its lead attorney, Jeff Orenstein, states that more than 1000 players have contacted the organization to potentially join in the class action suit. He says to Smith that the balances of these players who have money locked up on Full Tilt Poker allegedly range from $5 to $900,000, but cannot be confirmed due to the Full Tilt website currently being inactive.
In total, Orenstein gives Smith estimates of the amounts of money that Full Tilt Poker owes players worldwide. He estimates that about $15 million is being held up that rightfully belongs to Canadian players, $150 million to American players and as much as $300 million to players around the world. Smith quotes Orenstein as saying, “Some of them (the Full Tilt leaders the case has been filed against) have significant assets so, even if the company files for bankruptcy, there’s personal liability as well,” meaning that Orenstein would look to liquidate the assets of those Full Tilt persons involved to pay off those Canadian players owed money.
Smith’s article does include some chastising of the Canadian government and Canadian online players, however. Duhaime believes that Canada’s reluctance to enforce its laws is allowing illegal online gaming to thrive in Canada and, as a result, tells players that regaining the money they lost could be difficult. In Duhaime’s view, players should have known that they were participating in an illegal activity and says, “You can’t participate in the commission of an offense and then expect to be compensated. You do it at your own risk.”
As the online poker world anxiously awaits word on the outcome of the AGCC/Full Tilt hearing, there could be a silver lining for Canadian players. The potential for the Canadian government to regulate the industry and offer a product to its citizens is an outcome that could arise from the collapse of Full Tilt Poker.