Dear Mr. Obama, Members of Congress, Governors and State Officials,
My name is Jason Schlachter and I used to have the greatest job in the world until I was fired by the government 2 years ago. I was an internet poker player. Playing poker on the internet challenged me and pushed my limits. Each day I woke up excited at the prospect of being the best I could be and through my hard work, I was one of the most successful internet players. Not only was I successful in my job, but I took pride in the fact that I could provide for my family, and I loved the flexibility that allowed me to never miss spending time with them. It has been 2 years since the government has prevented me, as well as my colleagues and other aficionados from playing poker on the internet. Now, despite the fact that the law that was passed in 2006 making internet poker illegal has since been ruled NOT to apply to games of skill (like poker), and the proliferation of casinos everyplace in the US (including lottery and horse racing on the internet)the government continues to prevent internet poker sites from operating in the US and no longer allows me to pursue my chosen profession.
It took me a very long time to be able to admit to people that I played internet poker professionally, because some people did not understand the skill involved and therefore looked down on me, asked me when I was going to do something real with my life and called it gambling. In reality, playing poker professionally is actually a bit like being a professional chess player and a bit like being a stock trader. Like playing chess, it requires thousands of hours of study to determine what the best moves are in different situations and when to use them. You must be able to consider what your opponents are thinking and their thought processes as well as to remain in complete control of your emotions at all times. As in stock trading, it is necessary to analyze situations in real time and to have the ability to make quick, calculated and rational decisions, often for a lot of money. Despite what many people believe, it is in fact nothing like playing craps or the lottery. You are competing against other players, not the casino, and your skill has a large effect on the outcome. In fact, as someone who has played nearly 8 million hands in his lifetime, an amount which would take more than 300,000 hours in the casino, I can assure you, there is little gambling involved.
I began to take poker more seriously in 2003, when I was senior at the University of Pennsylvania. I had played poker with friends on occasion and realized that there was a lot of skill and that I could get better by studying the mathematics of the game. As a former runner and tennis player, I enjoyed the competition inherent in poker, was looking to improve and was willing to work at it. I went to Atlantic City once or twice, but between taking 5 classes and writing my thesis, I did not have time to make the trip, so I decided to deposit a few dollars in an online poker site. I began playing for pennies and soon I was trying to learn the best way to beat my online opponents too. Often this required working out solutions away from the table and my geeky, math loving, solution based self loved it. When I graduated, I moved back home and was looking for jobs during the day, and playing poker at night. Before too long, I was making far more money playing poker then I could if I had gotten the jobs I was seeking, so I decided to continue.
In September of 2006, on the last day before Congress would break for the election, Bill Frist and John Kyl, two extremely conservative Republicans tacked on the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act(UIGEA) to The SAFE Port Act. This bill made it a crime to process payments to online poker sites according to the 1961 Wire Act. Despite the fact that no one on the Senate-House Committee had seen the final language in the UIGEA, it did not matter, because it was attached to The SAFE Port Act, which had to pass. After this bill was passed, the European Union and Antigua filed lawsuits and won damages against the United States as a result of this law violating free trade agreements.
In 2009, New York and Illinois requested clarification of the UIGEA from the Department of Justice(DOJ). In April of 2011, the DOJ took action to shut down the sites that were still operating in the US, ignoring the request for clarification over whether operating a site was actually illegal. It was not until December 2011 when the DOJ finally admitted that the 1961 Wire Act did not apply to poker, which made their attempts to close the internet poker market in 2006 and 2011 wrong.
In fact, before the UIGEA, the internet poker market in the US was operating well and in the open. Since 2006, poker has moved into a grey market and players who want to play have been forced to deal with disreputable companies, delays in payment and even the possibility of not getting paid. When the US government shut down the poker sites in 2011, the reputable site that I played on, paid me, as well as everyone else immediately, but the players on Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker were not so lucky. The government has sold the company and has said that they will pay the players the money that is owed but to date has not done so and has shown no plans to. This is very unfortunate for many people who needed these funds for living and working expenses, who were not only fired by the government, but have also had their money trapped by them.
Since 2011, I have been forced to travel to Atlantic City and Pennsylvania in order to support myself and my family. Not only has my income been reduced substantially but my expenses have also risen. In addition, since I live in New York City, nearly a 2.5 hour drive from there, I cannot commute and must stay over and be away from my wife for extended periods of time. While many of my colleagues opted to move out of the country to work playing internet poker, I did not feel as though this was a reasonable option for me.
The government has admitted that they have erred in this matter and have lost in the WTO regarding internet gambling. I believe they are hypocrites for continuing to push the lottery, horse racing and for allowing casinos to be built everyplace, while denying people the ability to gamble in their own homes. I am asking that the government finally do what is right and just and to restore internet poker to people who want to play.