With three poker websites popular with U.S. players seized, their founders indicted and billions of dollars in cash locked up in cyberspace, supporters of legalizing online poker stepped up their lobbying efforts Monday for federal regulations.
Those efforts have been led by a small, grassroots organization that has become the main voice of poker players in the United States. The Poker Player Alliance has helped its members voice their support for legalizing online poker through several lobbying campaigns.
"They are spending millions to prosecute these individuals when they could be making billions through regulation of online poker. We are urging Congress to pass legislation to license online poker," said John Pappas, executive director of the Washington, D.C. -based Poker Player Alliance.
Pappas said his group works with Las Vegas-based gaming companies and race track owners to legalize online poker.
The PPA launched a Take Action page on its website to assist players with contacting members of Congress, the Department of Justice and President Obama.
There is even an online form letter set up that asks players to fill in their name, email address, mailing address, and phone number.
"As a poker player, constituent, and voter, I am writing to you today to express my frustration and disappointment with the Department of Justice's recent actions regarding the online poker industry. Rather than protecting U.S. consumers, those actions have instead dramatically harmed them," the letter reads.
The Take Action page also includes a link to the Justice Department's Facebook page to leave comments. The organization urges its supporters to post on the DOJ's Facebook page: "Politely post your thoughts." It also urges others to "like other pro-poker posts as well."
Ron Nessler posted Monday: "If freedom to do with my money as I wish in the privacy of my own home does not go to the basic issue of liberty, what on earth would?"
Nessler told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he hasn't been able to use his Full Tilt Poker or Poker Stars accounts since April 15, when the federal government seized five Internet domain names and froze 76 bank accounts in 14 countries that allegedly belong to online poker companies.
The founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker also face charges of money laundering and illegal gambling. The federal charges, however, have not dampened the enthusiasm for online poker of Nessler or his wife, Suzanne -- nor their support for the companies.
"We are very loyal to PokerStars and Full Tilt. My money is there until this is settled. It's an act of solidarity with Full Tilt and PokerStars," said Nessler, who declined to discuss his balances in either online account.
Suzanne Nessler wasn't as diplomatic about the federal government's decision to indict online poker companies and their executives.
"The government can't find Osama bin Laden, but they can shut down online poker?" she asked. "My father had a saying, you slap your wallet you're 99 percent right. In other words, they want a piece of the pie."
Chris Robinson, who posted a comment on the DOJ's Facebook page Monday, said in an email that so far he hasn't received any of his money back.
"It's all still frozen. Since Black Friday, I decided not to try any other poker sites. I really only deal with Full Tilt and PokerStars," he wrote.
Pappas said that since the indictments, poker players have sent more than 70,000 emails and letters to government officials.
The organization also uses MySpace, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr to get its message out to its members and supporters of online poker. It even has its own iPhone app.
Pappas said they use the social media site 2 plus 2 so poker players can post their personal stories. He said social media have allowed supporters of legalized online poker to "focus their anger and concern" in a constructive way by reaching out to their representatives and fellow poker players.
He urged members of Congress, when they return next week from spring break, to allow online poker "to enter the marketplace in a regulated fashion." In a phone interview Monday, Pappas declined to speculate on the federal government's reasons for pursuing the indictments against the three companies.
Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3893.