No joke, this is a true story. A little less than a month ago online blackjack players in Armenia were suddenly without online blackjack. The connection, the internet, the games—and even an online blackjack tournament—were all interrupted when 75 year old Aishtan Shakarian cut through an international fiber optic backbone cable, known as the West-East cable, that connected Armenia to the rest of the world’s internet.
The elderly woman had been out gathering scrap metal to sell when she found a steel wrapped cable. Thinking to bring what she could carry with her to sell, the grandmother of eight began to chop away at the cable. After about ten hours of hacking at the cable Shakarian was able to pull free a twenty meter section of the steel casing. In doing so she damaged the fiber optic internet cable to the point that the majority of the country lost its internet connection for around twelve hours.
Online blackjack is the second most popular online casino game in all of Armenia, hence all of the upset when the cable was damaged and internet service lost. At the time the cable was damaged an online blackjack tournament was taking place. Players in this particular tournament were highly upset due to the fact that entry fees into the tournament were unrefundable, and after twelve hours of no internet, there was no one winning that tournament.
At the time Shakarian was arrested and admitted to damaging the cable while digging. When commenting on the situation, Zurab Gvenetadze, a police spokesman, said, ‘Her age is a mitigating factor. I am not expecting the prosecution to push for a strict punishment.” It is likely she will face a fine, some time doing community service and potentially a year in prison. It is unclear if she knew what the cable was for and if she knew she was cutting her country off from the Internet. There has also been no word on whether the online blackjack tournament players received a refund owing to the exceptional circumstances.
While so much of what is made on the software end of online casino games is in English. Not everyone in the world who gambles speaks it or understands it. Sure, blackjack players in the UK, Australia and the US (who are not supposed to be playing) speak English; and sure, a good portion of European citizens speak and understand some English. But English is not the language of the world—that goes to math I believe.
In light of that fact, one online casino is now offering its live dealer online blackjack in more languages than just English.
Fairway Casino is licensed and regulated out of Costa Rica. While not a big player in the online casino industry, it is beginning to make its presence known. Adding seven new languages to its live dealer online blackjack platform is just one of those ways.
The new language additions are Spanish, Italian, Greek, Chinese, Russian, Dutch and Korean.
While this may not seem like a big deal to many online blackjack players, I have two things to say about it:
1. The US online gambling market is huge. The conservatives who loathe online gambling with every fiber of their misinformed beliefs are huge too. Online regulation is going to be a battle of who is bigger. By making online blackjack and other online casinos and games more easily accessible to others in the world, it will allow the rest of the gambling market to grow to a size that could eventually overpower the conservatives. As in ‘We are bigger and we want into the US market.’ Or ‘We took the time to grow and get more money to lobby with.’
2. Online blackjack should be available to anyone who wants to play whether they speak English or not. Opening up live dealer online blackjack to the wider language world is a good move to bring in more players who have an interest in the game. Online blackjack for everyone!
That is a question that many online blackjack players are asking themselves. With three major US-facing online poker sites being seized by the FBI and Department of Justice this past Friday, many who play their favorite casino games online are concerned if they will be next.
Unfortunately, my little blackjack players, there is no way of knowing if an online casino is going to be targeted by the FBI and DoJ next. The online poker sites were taken down, I think, as a scare tactic. Conservatives are very against online gambling of any kind, and with DC becoming the first jurisdiction to pass a bill to regulate online poker, those conservatives are bound to be up in arms. Think it is a coincidence that it was online poker that DC passed their bill on and online poker only sites that were seized? I think not. This is the vulture-esque conservatives trying to scare Americans away from playing their favorite online casino games in their own homes.
That being said, is online blackjack legal or illegal?
Yes, back in 2006 the UIGEA was signed into law; and, yes, it went into effect last June. But the UIGEA is a way for the federal government to bar financial institutions from knowingly making transactions to and from online casinos. Naturally online gambling operators and players found a way around it. But the UIGEA is not a player-based ban. Nowhere in it does it say that US citizens cannot play blackjack online. So, on an individual to individual basis, no, online blackjack is not technically illegal.
But does that mean that where you play online blackjack could be targeted next? There is no way of knowing. And with the legal loop-de-loops that the New York branch of the FBI will doing to round up and prosecute the eleven people indicted with the three online poker sites, I think their attention will be occupied for the next little while. But to be on the safe side, be very mindful of how much money you are keeping in your player accounts; if a site is seized there is little chance that you will get your money back. Play smart.
On April 3rd Chinese artist and activist Ai WeiWei was arrested in China, and his current whereabouts are unknown. While there are the usual activists who are upset about WeiWei’s arrest, there is a surprising group of people who are very upset at the arrest and disappearance of WeiWei: US blackjack players.
This is because WeiWei was not only an artist and activist; he was also a first rate blackjack player. This is a guy who had full ‘comps’ at just about all of the Atlantic City casinos where he played a few days each week. He was so well regarded by the Atlantic City casinos that a limo was sent to his Lower East Side unfurnished apartment where he lived in the 1980s to pick him up and bring him to Atlantic City a few days a week.
Another show of how well regarded WeiWei was is the news several casino insiders who are considering putting together several blackjack and poker tournaments to raise money to lobby US lawmakers. What are they going to lobby for? That the government impose trade restrictions against China until WeiWei is released from Chinese prison, where he is assumed to be held. That is how well regarded WeiWei is among blackjack players—they are willing to put up trade restrictions against the largest country in the world for this man. Very touching. I mean that.
What made WeiWei so popular and well regarded among blackjack players? He was not a high rolling playing who kept to himself. Instead he was very open, talking with his fellow players and giving them tips and pointers on blackjack strategy.
One such blackjack player is Vinnie “Snake Eyes.” He recalls the time he met WeiWei: “I came here to Atlantic City now to unwind a bit at the blackjack table. It was here I met him some twenty five years ago. I was playing and losing bad, and then this Asian guy with a beard right out of the Kung Fu movies, playing next to me, starts telling me when to hit, split or stay. I don’t listen to nobody but every time I didn’t listen to him, I’d lose the hand. So I start listening. I was up a few grand that night. I always listened when he explained smart strategies. He is the best.”
It is actions and time such as that spent with blackjack players that made WeiWei such a popular man in the blackjack community. It is easy to see why blackjack players are so upset about his arrest and disappearance. Here’s to WeiWei and the blackjack community; I hope they get him released.
The last we heard from PokerTek was that they were in some financial trouble. Seems limiting their business to only poker just was not cutting it. Thus the expansion began. PokerTek now boosts what it is calling its ProCore system. Mainly it is being presented as an automated blackjack table, called BlackjackPro, although the table’s computer is programmed with six other games.
These blackjack tables with other games seem to be doing very well for PokerTek. Two months ago saw the installation of the first two BlackjackPro tables with the ProCore system. The success is so good that the company is making some additions:
“BlackjackPro has performed beyond our expectation since the initial installation in February and player feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. We have developed an additional casino game which was rolled out for the first time this month. The expansion of blackjack and the addition of new game content represent important steps in our strategic growth plans,” said PokerTek’s president, James Crawford.
What that means is that PokerTek is doing much better since it spread its product base from only poker tables to automated blackjack tables and then some; it also means that sales and interest is good enough for PokerTek to feel that it is coming out of danger. April alone has seen the installation of four more ProCore tables with the BlackjackPro game software. This brings the total amount of ProCore tables with BlackjackPro to six.
The additional game content was added to the four tables that were installed this month. Now I do hope that the first two tables receive the new game content as it would be rather unfair for them to be the two automated blackjack tables that generated the hype and projected success which caused the new game content to be developed, and then not receive it.
I am sure that when Jerome Powers took out his line of credit he thought that he would be doing some winning at the blackjack tables at the Mohegan Sun. And I am sure that the Mohegan Sun thought that Powers would not be a problem.
But two years later the Mohegan Sun is still trying to collect on the millionaire’s credit line with them. Did I mention that Powers is a millionaire? No? Well, he is. To give you an idea, he sold his Ocean Drive magazine for $33 million. And that was only one business deal. So with that kind of money floating around, why is he fighting a $1.2 million gambling debt?
Sure, it probably is not peanuts to his bank account, but he also made five year deal with Donald Trump for $20 million. So while it is not the same as a middle class person forking over $10, there really is no reason why Powers should be fighting the Mohegan Sun and their tribal lawyers for paying the debt.
Unless the money is not there.
The whole problem stemmed from the day in May 2009 when the Mohegan Sun extended Powers the $1.2 million credit line. When he went to write what would be six checks to cover the $1.2 million, his bank returned the checks saying his account was closed. Powers at that point walked out of the Mohegan Sun.
Enter the lawyers.
Powers and his lawyer say that the credit line was illegal since it was issued on tribal land where the state has no jurisdiction. The judge ruled in favor of the Mohegan, saying it was used for legal gambling therefore it was considered legal by the state of Connecticut.
Now Powers and his attorney have filled for an appeal as of last week. The Mohegan are being mum on the entire ordeal, not commenting or saying anything—just keeping their heads down. But that approach is probably best considering they want their money which means the appeals court has to rule in their favor. Mum is best in this case.
But I still do not get why Powers would be so willing to gamble away $1.2 million on blackjack if he never considered losing it all. And there is the lesson: never play blackjack unless you can afford to lose the money.
Over the last couple of years we have see several states put forth legislation that would allow their slot parlors to expand with table games such as blackjack, poker and roulette; other bills have been for the allowing of new fully fledged brick and mortar casinos. Now Maryland is moving forward in their lawmakers scraping for blackjack tables.
The name of the bill that would give the state blackjack tables, poker tables and other table games is House Bill 331. House Bill 331 would allow the five establishments that already offer casino gambling in the form of slot machines the opportunity to apply for a gambling expansion in the form of table games.
Naturally the reason for the bill is to allow Maryland to generate more revenue and to allow their existing gambling facilities to compete with neighboring states who are now offering gambling establishments with both slot machines and table games. Delegate Frank Turner, who is the head supporter of House Bill 331, said, “It is a matter of staying competitive with other states around us.”
And he is right in saying so. Think about it: if you were looking to do some gambling in a brick and mortar casino, would you go to a slots parlor where your only playing options were slot machines, or would you make the drive to a brick and mortar casino with blackjack and poker as well as slot machines? The answer is simple. Americans desire variety, and even if they only wind up playing one kind of casino game, they will tend toward the option that gives them the most options.
Yesterday saw a lot of talk of gambling options for Maryland in the General Assembly. But it will take more than one meeting of the general assembly to determine whether or not to move forward in the table games expansion debate.
Here we go again down in Florida. The Seminoles have had their exclusivity to blackjack for less than a year, and already it is being threatened. Although this time the threat is not coming from the pari-mutuels backed with Florida lawmakers.
Not this time. In fact, the pari-mutuels are on the same side as the Seminoles this time.
The threat to the Seminole’s blackjack is coming from a proposed bill that would bring, not three like it was originally thought to be, but five destination resort casinos to Florida. And in order for them to be fully fledged casinos they would need the table game spectrum including blackjack and Vegas style slot machines. And the Seminoles have a five year exclusivity on blackjack and a twenty year exclusivity on the slot machines.
Destination resort casinos would most certainly undermine the Seminole compact; and if that were to happen, the tribe would not have to continue to pay the increments that would give Florida $1 billion over five years.
“If the legislature wants to allow in new entities, it will have to decide if it is a good tradeoff. Are they going to make enough to make up for the assured payments from the tribe,” said Seminole tribal spokesman Gary Bitner.
The bill, proposed by Senator Dennis Jones and Senator Maria Sachs, would have casino groups applying for gaming license and applying for state approval to be one of the five chosen. Like the money from the Seminoles, the refundable licensing fee and nonrefundable application fee would go mostly into the state’s general fund.
I do think that most of the state will not be in favor of bringing in five casinos. There is Florida’s reputation as a family vacation spot to be considered. Former state representative Dick Batchelor said, “You give up so much of the reputation you have built up, which I do not think can be replaced with the money make.”
Between the guaranteed money from the Seminoles as they pay for their blackjack and with Florida’s reputation to be considered, I do not think the bill will do through. However I have no doubt that Jones and Sachs will fight for its approval.
This past Friday saw a truly historic moment in online blackjack. The one billionth hand of online blackjack was dealt at Bodog. While there are many online casinos out there, each of who have dealt thousands and millions of hand of blackjack, not one had reached the one billionth mark at any of their online blackjack tables. Bodog was the first online casino to deal that many hands.
Naturally there was a special prize for that lucky online blackjack player. He or she had the choice of either a billionaire vacation trip to Fiji’s exclusive Turtle Island, or an expenses paid trip to Monaco to watch the Grand Prix from their own private boat. Both are truly incredible options.
But awesome prize to the lucky player who dealt the one billionth hand of online blackjack aside, there is a more industry related high point to this milestone.
Considering that federal level lawmakers, well at least the conservative base is, against legalizing and regulating online gambling and are trying to stop Americans from gambling online, this should show them that online gambling is here to stay and that it would be wiser to regulate this form of entertainment and generate revenue rather than sticking their heads in the sand like a bunch of ostriches.
“If I can’t see it, it will go away!”
Think about it for a moment. Sure, online blackjack is popular. But online poker surpasses even online blackjack. It would be silly to think otherwise. And if an online casino has finally hit its one billionth hand of online blackjack, imagine how many more hands of online poker and how many other online casinos have hit that milestone for online poker. Simply silly for the conservative base to think that online blackjack, online poker or online gambling will fade away or disappear from the American horizon.
Sorry to all you New Jersey online blackjack players. Seems your governor is not inclined to allow you to play blackjack online to benefit your own state. Because that is what online blackjack would have done—New Jersey residents would have had the opportunity to play at sites that would have been partnered with the brick and mortar casinos in Atlantic City, who in turn would have been able to pay the state more in taxes, which would have in turn filled in some holes in the New Jersey budget, paying for programs.
But that is not going to be happening.
At least not for a little while yet. When Governor Chris Christie vetoed the intrastate bill that would have given residents the choice to play casino games online legally, he vetoed it as a conditional veto, meaning that legislators could do some work on the bill based on notes made by Christie.
Christie’s biggest note was that the bill, as it is now, would have hit the state sanctioned monopoly that Atlantic City has on gambling. The monopoly exists because such a large portion of New Jersey’s revenue comes from Atlantic City. If gambling, online or otherwise, were to be established outside of Atlantic City, it would draw revenue from the casinos and thusly from New Jersey. As the intrastate gambling bill is right now, it would take a state constitutional referendum to keep the monopoly in place concerning online gambling.
Christie’s words on the matter: “Nothing contained in the legislation would prohibit commercial establishments…from offering Internet gambling opportunities in order to attract patrons or customers.”
At this point in time, the bill to allow New Jersey residents to play online blackjack and other online casino games is going back to legislators to see what changes can be made in order to get Christie’s signature.