The dawn of 2007 was met with trepidation by many in the online poker world, and not without reason. As the month of January would prove, the other shoe was about to drop.
After the signing of the SAFE Port Act by President George Bush in October of 2006, the poker world was put on notice by the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.
The UIGEA was tacked on to the Port bill by presidential hopeful Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and was passed without review. It became obvious how the new law was going to be enforced with the arrest of the founders of NETeller in January.
While traveling in the United States, both Stephen Lawrence and John Lefebvre, founders of NETeller no longer affiliated with the online wallet, were arrested by Department of Justice officials. As the two men went to court, the online dominoes began to fall.
NETeller suspended the provision of services to American customers for gaming-related transactions and halted the trading of its stock on the London Stock Exchange. Other online sites that were publicly traded soon followed suit. Citadel Commerce Corp. followed NETeller's lead and also suspended gaming-related options for U. S. citizens.
Then the poker rooms began to depart. PartyPoker, one of the largest poker rooms in the business, dropped action for Americans, as did 888.com and a host of other sites.
The news wasn't all bad for American online players. A few of the larger sites such as PokerStars, UltimateBet and Full Tilt remained in the game. As private entities that weren't being traded on the London Stock Exchange, they wouldn't run afoul of the legalities that such companies as PartyGaming (the owners of PartyPoker) and 888.com were facing.
However, there was a significant reduction in online poker action, as players had to find other methods of financing their online accounts and even had to find new places to play.
Tournament poker action was plentiful during January as the major tours (the World Poker Tour, the World Series of Poker Circuit and the European Poker Tour) all held multiple events. The biggest story of January was Down Under, though, as the Aussie Millions welcomed a familiar name back to the poker world.
Battling through a final table that included 2005 WSOP Main Event final tablist Andrew Black and noted cash game player Kristy Gazes, "The Great Dane" Gus Hansen was able to outlast newcomer Jimmy Fricke to capture the title and return to the pinnacle of the poker world.
Other major tournament champions from January included previously unknown players such as Bryan Sumner and Ryan Daut on the WPT, along with veteran John Hennigan. The WSOPC crowned Dennis Perry in Tunica during the month and the EPT welcomed Magnus Petersson into its winners' circle.
After the flurry of tournaments and the stunning changes in the online world during January, 2007, would continue to be tumultuous. We'll continue to look at the big stories from the year in poker as this series continues.