In case you missed the astonishing announcement earlier this month, Anurag Dikshit, one of the founders and former executives at Party Poker, agreed to plead guilty and will pay a whopping $300 million fine in a settlement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice. The big question is - why?
According to news reports, Dikshit pleaded guilty to violating one count of the Wire Act. That's right - one count.
Although convincing arguments have been made both in and out of various courts that this obsolete 1961 federal law does not apply to the Internet or skill games such as poker, Dikshit walked away from what would have been a very winnable battle without ever firing a shot. He surrendered to the enemies of personal freedom.
Dikshit was once named the 207th-richest person in the world by Forbes magazine; it's unclear whether paying a huge fine and absorbing millions more in legal fees will ultimately whack Dikshit out of the top 500. But I suspect he'll somehow manage to survive.
What's most disturbing about this gross capitulation is that Dikshit got filthy rich on the backs of millions of poker players like you and me, those who faithfully paid the rake at Party Poker one hand at a time until Dikshit had more cash than he could possibly spend in a lifetime.
And when the time came when he could actually do something for all of us, when the time came when he was in the best possible strategic and financial position to stand up to the DoJ's control freaks and the moral crusaders, Dikshit essentially said "screw the poker players, I'm protecting my own ass." There are words to describe people like Dikshit. Coward comes to mind.
With wealth and power come certain obligations. Noblesse oblige is the term once used to describe the responsibilities of the barons of industry, who earned their great wealth from the toil of others and who enjoyed the advantages a free society gave them to succeed in business.
But instead of hiring the best possible legal team and pursuing what would have been a winnable case for the online poker industry, costing a fraction of what was eventually paid in an obscene settlement, Dikshit instead chose a scorched-earth policy, burning every poker player from Key West to Nome. He gave up a winnable fight and abandoned principle.
To be fair, Party Poker was in a tough position. Motivated by the desire to maintain its good standing on the London Stock Exchange, Party had much to lose by fighting a lengthy legal battle with the feds. It's impossible to know what went on in backroom conversations between Dikshit and company management.
But Party Gaming later announced it had nothing to do with the actual settlement, described as a personal legal issue with Dikshit. So he alone bears full responsibility for folding what very well could have been a winning hand.
The government's case against Dikshit is a terrifying miscarriage of justice. It is a grotesque witch hunt which not only demolishes our individual freedoms, but also sets a frightening precedent which could adversely impact international law and commerce.
Keep in mind that Dikshit is not a U.S. citizen. One must ask why our government is spending critical resources going after foreigners. If Dikshit was a dangerous terrorist, one might understand the government's zeal.
But Party Gaming is and has always been a legal, licensed company that just so happens to be based abroad. Because many American customers (once) found Party Poker to be an attractive place to hang out hardly makes the Web site's founders and operators "criminals."
Indeed, the plea and fine are an admission of guilt - of what, I don't exactly know. Operating a legal and legitimate business in another country that just so happened to attract American customers?
If that's not puzzling enough, consider this. Party Poker actually complied with U.S. law after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed in 2006. It voluntarily withdrew from the U.S. market. Why then would the federal government go after the management of one of the companies which obeyed the law?
Unfortunately, because Dikshit threw in the towel before the fight even started, these questions will never be answered. Secrecy prevails. The nameless, faceless shakedown artists in the DoJ win. Debate, deliberation and justice never see the light of day.
Of course, online poker sites are largely to blame for their current impasse within the U.S. market. At one time, this multibillion-dollar industry was every bit as wealthy and potentially powerful as any business or trade organization in America. It could have mobilized forces and financed a massive public relations blitz.
Just as the pharmaceutical and telecommunications industries have bombed the airwaves with advocacy spots supporting what they want from lawmakers in Washington, online sites could have spent a few bucks - a tiny fraction of what they earn in profits - and run ads which would have appealed to millions of ordinary Americans who cherish individual freedoms.
A 10-second clip showing former President Ronald Reagan at the presidential pulpit crowing about "getting the government out of our lives" would have sliced political conservatives right down the middle, which probably would have slugged the antigambling zealots a fatal blow.
But it didn't happen. There were no television commercials. There were no ads in major magazines and newspapers. There was no public relations blitz.
By the time the industry finally decided to go on the offensive with initiatives like the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), it was too late. The damage was already done.
And when the time ultimately came that one of our own had a chance to stand up to the evil bastards in court, he chose instead to walk away. Alas, if there's anything more outrageous in this day and age than our own government going after online poker companies and its owners, it's cowards like Anurag Dikshit abandoning the noble fight and surrendering.
Nolan Dalla can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More Nolan Dalla Blogs