Do you remember UltimateBet? They were a big online poker site in the United States. In fact, they were one of the top three sites in the US, after PokerStars and Full Tilte Poker. Those three sites (along with sister site Absolute Poker) ended up closing their doors in 2011 when the US Department of Justice shut them down. There are lots of online poker sites in the US that operate legally today now that poker has been declared a game of skill, but the big three were accused of skirting the law.
A few big players from Madison, Wisconsin used to represent UltimateBet. One of those players is all-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth. But a lesser known poker pro named Mark Kroon also wore the UB patch at tournaments all over the world, representing the online pro component of the internet poker site.
Kroon, who finished in the top 50 of this years World Series of Poker Main Event, happens to own a bar in Madison, Wisconsin called Players Sports Bar. It’s fairly famous among the poker community, a place that The Poker Brat has been known to pop up. And a place where poker players in the Wisconsin area get together to talk game.
But there was more more that just general poker chit chat happening over the past few years. The bar was home to frequent poker tournaments, something the state viewed as illegal. About four years ago, the Justice Department of Wisconsin came knocking and told Kroon to stop hosting tournaments. They were good about it, giving Kroon a warning that if he continued, their hands were tied and he could lose his bar license. But they were clear. He needed to stop.
It should be noted that Kroon wasn’t charging a fee to host the tournaments. There was no tournament fee taken so the bar wasn’t making any money off the games. It was just something for poker players to do.
But Kroon, not wanting to face the wrath of the law, stopped the games and took the state to court along with a number of other poker players. He argued that poker is game of skill. And he proved it in court. The state barely bothered to dispute those claims. They didn’t even call upon an expert witness. The judge actually agreed that Kroon proved his case well, but ultimately ruled in favor of the state.
This is an interesting case because playing any type of game for real money in public, particularly where alcohol is served, seems like it would be violating some sort of law, no matter where in the world you might be located.
While I do agree that poker is a game of skill, money is flowing across the table so playing in a public area is a fine line. While the ruling might have stopped Kroon from hosting games, it hasn’t stopped all bars from doing the same.
The initial raid (if you can call it that) stems from a complaint by Native American casinos, who collectively argued that they were losing out on some poker business. It’s likely that bars who weren’t subject of the initial complaint are continuing to do whatever they were doing.
What do you think of all this? Did the state make the right move in asking the bar to stop hosting games? Or should the government lay off and focus on more important things? Sound off with your thoughts.