One of the largest developments in the ongoing battle for online poker in the United States took place on July 31, when the U.S. Department of Justice announced that PokerStars completed a deal to acquire the assets of Full Tilt Poker. Many poker players have voiced their opinion on the deal on the internet, from members of Team PokerStars Pro to online professionals worldwide. Daniel Negreanu is one of the most recognizable faces on Team PokerStars Pro and he is a well-spoken media-savvy member of the poker community, so BLUFF spoke with Negreanu in order to gleam his thoughts regarding the news.
BLUFF: What was your initial gut reaction when you heard the news about the deal?
Daniel Negreanu: I mean there was no surprise. I’m happy for the players for sure and generally in awe of the brilliance and the minds behind the head of PokerStars and how well they have executed this. They’ve done a really amazing job.
BLUFF: You and other Team PokerStars Pros said that you were proud of this move by the company. Why specifically are you proud?
Negreanu: In short they’re just genius. First of all, the way they handled Black Friday, everyone was paid swiftly and it became very apparent within a few months how different the two companies were run. On one side you had PokerStars, a tip-top organization, a well-oiled machine that did everything well and they were back in business and ready to go. Full Tilt: a complete collapse. And that’s a testament to the people at the top. The people at the top of Full Tilt were just incompetent and not business savvy. The people at PokerStars are very business savvy.
I’m very proud of the fact that they didn’t have to do this. The player money was gone, it was dead. If PokerStars doesn’t step in nobody is ever going to get paid, period. They didn’t really have to do this but I think that what from I gather, the perception of online poker and things like this is so negative that they’d rather bite the bullet here in order to help reinstate the image of online poker, not only in the U.S. but across the globe.
The most important aspect of it is PokerStars, from the get go – and I believe this the whole way – has done nothing wrong. And the proof is in the pudding, the DOJ is clear that PokerStars is admitting zero fault to any wrongdoing. I think that is important. There are lots of people that are accusing PokerStars of doing things that Full Tilt did … absolutely not. The proof is in the pudding, the settlements been made, no wrong doing. That’s very, very powerful.
BLUFF: As a sponsored player of Team PokerStars Pro you grab positive attention for the company by winning a poker tournament. Do you think this is a situation where the reverse effect is at play, with the actions of PokerStars reflecting well on its sponsored players?
Negreanu: Very much so, yes. I don’t know that everyone spends as much time worrying or being as concerned about their attachment to brands, but I take it very, very seriously. And through my life I’ve never been involved in any scandal whatsoever because I make sure that I associate myself with people I trust and that have morally sound values. Whether or not I know the ins and outs of how everything works, I have people at my fingertips that do, and I trust them implicitly and they have never steered me wrong. So yeah, it makes me feel proud, and it makes us feel good for representing such a quality brand. So yes, in this case, PokerStars does make the players look good.
BLUFF: Do you think that we will see a bump in tournament participation with this influx of bankrolls coming back into players’ hands? Or do you think it will take more time?
Negreanu: It will take more time. First of all, the rest of world players are going to be handled by PokerStars, which is a pretty swift process as seen by Black Friday. As for the U.S. it’s a different story. PokerStars has given the DOJ more than enough money to cover all of those player funds and that’s what they’ve agreed to do, but I think that process with the DOJ isn’t going to be as seamless than it would be if PokerStars was handling it most likely; having said that, as far as I’m concerned everyone is going to get paid. How? It’s just not going to be the same way that PokerStars is handling it.
BLUFF: Do you think this reimbursement process will be a good test run to get players used to going through the government to access their bankrolls when online poker is taxed and regulated?
Negreanu: I think this shines a spotlight. With the DOJ handling paying back the funds, you’re going to have to most likely apply for your money back. Your tax receipts are going to be scrutinized a little more closely, and they’ll have records to show the validity of what you’re saying you’re paying and what you aren’t. I think if the U.S. gets regulated you’re going to have to get used to a lot more infringements on the ease that we have had in online poker over the years.
I think if regulation comes into play there will be a lot of growing pains the first six months to a year because you have people that won’t necessarily understand the business as well as PokerStars did. There might be some restrictions on things, and there are rumors that deposit limits might be a little bit tight, and limits might be smaller than normal, the rake is still up in the air in terms of what they’re going to charge. I think while it’s a good thing in every respect, I think people are going to have to get used to some growing pains and a little bit more of a hassle if you will.
BLUFF: What do you think this does to affect the timeline for taxed and regulated online poker in the United States? Are they related or are they independent events?
Negreanu: I think they are independent events. The DOJ has no jurisdiction over legislation. It does seem like there is a push for legislation to happen relatively soon, whether it is this year, next year, or maybe 2014. What the landscape will look like is still unknown. Whether this event expedites it, I don’t know if it has much of an effect to be honest.