Poker's Black Friday (2011)
When you mention Black Friday to most people, the first thing that pops into their heads is the online shopping event. For poker players, it’s a completely different story...
Just over ten years ago, the US Department of Justice took three of the biggest US online poker platforms to court, ultimately resulting in massive changes to the US online poker landscape. Online poker in the US is still mostly unavailable, even a decade on. With millions of dollars of player’s funds frozen and founders finding themselves in jail, this is the story of poker players’ Black Friday.
What Was Black Friday for Poker Players?
Online poker players waking up on April 15th, 2011, were surprised to find the homepages of the sites PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/UB displaying an official seizure notice. In a matter of hours, the DoJ had managed to completely shut down a stable industry across the US, resulting in thousands of players being unable to access their funds and the arrests of the founders and directors of the companies in question.
This resulted in massive shifts in online gambling across the United States, making ripples across the world and resulting in huge changes. With no warning whatsoever, one day, the entire exploding US online poker scene went away.
What exactly happened on April 11th, 2011?
What Caused Poker’s Black Friday?
Essentially, the US DoJ utilized the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 to seize the domains and arrest the founders of the biggest three online poker companies.
Effectively, the UIGEA replaced the earlier Wire act, which dated back to the 1960s and was outdated when it came to modern online gambling.
The Black Friday cases were built on accusations of fraud by the federal government, accusing the three major poker companies of conning banks and breaking the law. With players and the businesses involved completely failing to see the seizure, arrests and accusations coming, black Friday was a major, sweeping event when it comes to online gambling of all kinds, setting a worrying precedent for the online gambling industry the world over.
One of the biggest repercussions of the seizures was the inability of the players to get their fund balances back from the online poker companies.
- PokerStars handled the situation the best, working with the government to cease US play and regain their domain, as well as paying back their customers' balances.
- Absolute Poker/UB, on the other hand, failed to play along - abandoning the business, and failing to pay back any customers’ bank balances. The former management disappeared, likely with the stolen funds and players are unlikely to see any refunds anytime soon.
- Full Tilt Poker was eventually bought by former rival PokerStars, and the player funds were eventually mostly returned.
Several executives and managers of the poker companies faced convictions, which ranged from large fines to jail time, with the last conviction coming in 2020. With that conviction, it seemed the dust from the events of April 11th, 2011, had finally settled.
Industry Response to Black Friday
As a worrying indicator of potential things to come, Black Friday massively shook up all online gambling the world over. It was essentially a warning to businesses operating outside of the United States, the swift and massive changes were a worrying sign of things to come for companies that failed to comply with legislation or operate on US soil.
Of the three companies involved, only PokerStars came out with any credit, pivoting to focus on their non-US customers and buying former rival Full Tilt Poker. By stepping away from the US market, PokerStars has been able to remain a successful online gambling business, still operating today.
For the most part, however, only companies that operated specifically within the borders of the US faced any true impact from the black Friday changes, with the US online poker market and the three major companies, accounting for around 95% of the industry overall.
Many optimistically viewed the events of Black Friday as a potential beginning to proper gambling legislation and regulation across the United States as a whole, potentially ushering in a new era of online gambling, but this hasn’t materialized, sadly. Black Friday might not have been the beginning of a new level of legislation and legalization nationwide, but no one can argue that it massively changed online poker regardless.
How is US Online Poker Now?
Even five years after the events of Black Friday, online poker was only available in three states, with PokerStars relaunching in 2016. With gambling licenses limited to only a couple of certain states, things are very different from how they were prior to April 11th, 2011.
One of the big impacts was players' trust in online gambling companies. Whereas in the past, players were often very loyal to one or two gambling companies, after the events of Black Friday, many players began diversifying their bankroll and keeping a closer eye on their choice of online casino.
Will Things Recover?
Well, if all the other industries are anything to go by, the world has long been seeing a steady migration online, so it is likely this industry will be no different. While large land-based casinos have a lot of power and influence in the United States, the growth of the online gambling industry is inevitable.
As more and more licenses begin to be granted, we will see more growth throughout the US market. However, this will, of course, all hinge on changing legislation and licensing systems.
At the end of the day, Black Friday might seem like ancient history now, but it will no doubt go down as a dark day in the history of the poker industry.