Some movies just don’t live up to the hype.
You know the kind. They’re produced for a mountain of millions and are marketed masterfully but in the end deliver too little in the way of suspense. Their plots are so convoluted and implausible that moments of intrigue morph into slapstick comedy.
That’s the way I’ve come to view the unintentionally funny antics of the great American Internet poker gurus, whose big plans for world domination continue to come unspooled like film from a 16-millimeter projector.
Not that the premise wasn’t promising. Three major Internet poker companies proved without doubt that the activity is popular with millions of online players worldwide even though the money games appeared to be clear violations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. While the companies tucked away their operations outside the United States, their biggest market, entertaining tales were floated that online poker wasn’t actually gambling because it was a game of skill.
Meanwhile, the Internet companies were making a score and somehow managed to appear to be meeting the impossible legal challenge of paying players from across international lines. Any thoughts owners of Full Tilt Poker, Poker Stars and Absolute Poker had of flying under the radar ended in April when a major federal indictment alleging fraud, money laundering and gambling violations was unsealed in the Southern District of New York.
The Department of Justice also is pursuing an estimated $3 billion in forfeitures in a civil complaint.
Since then, the online companies have struggled to return money belonging to thousands of players. Real-time poker legend Phil Ivey recently announced he wouldn’t participate in the ongoing World Series of Poker because of sponsor FullTilt’s legal woes. Ivey has been criticized for taking what some consider an ethical stand.
In our latest episode, we are introduced to a singular character named Jeremy D. Johnson of St. George, Utah. Johnson was arrested Saturday by IRS agents on a federal mail fraud charge in connection with the poker case. Johnson was at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport about to board a flight to Costa Rica when his impromptu getaway was interrupted.
Who is Jeremy Johnson?
To some, he’s a philanthropist who has used his private aircraft to help in rescue efforts and aid missions in places such as Haiti.
He’s also at the center of a sprawling Federal Trade Commission lawsuit out of Las Vegas and Utah. The FTC accuses Johnson of crafting a $289 million Internet scam over the past five years.
Not surprisingly, he didn’t dump those millions on the poor and homeless in Haiti. He did, however, gamble like a fiend at Wynn Las Vegas, the MGM Grand and Bellagio, and online with his friends at FullTilt Poker. In fact, Johnson is alleged to have lost more than $1.5 million online from April to October, making him one amazingly unhealthy player.
Johnson’s name surfaces in connection with the central issues of the federal case against the online poker companies: the illegal processing of player funds through federally insured financial institutions such as SunFirst Bank of St. George.
Former bank Vice President John Campos was indicted in the poker case with Chad Elie. Elie’s version of events has him approached by Johnson to process millions in player funds through Campos at SunFirst.
The poker bums are bustouts on three continents. But there’s an upside to this glorified Three Stooges special.
It plays right into the hands of major Las Vegas gaming companies and their friends in Congress who are busy crafting a way to legalize Internet gaming beginning with poker. The online operators serve as perfect arguments for regulation and legalization for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Democratic side and Sen. Joe Barton of Texas representing the Republicans.
As long as it doesn’t produce a sequel, perhaps this is how the movie ends.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.