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UIGEA repeal in cards for 2009?
By anyone's measure, we've just experienced a monumental year for poker. With unprecedented growth in the number of people involved in the game and the number of places where they're playing, not to mention a few scandals big enough to make 60 Minutes, the game was bigger than ever in 2008.
That sets the stage for an even more monumental year ahead. Here's a look in the PokerListings crystal ball to see what's in store for 2009.
The 2009 World Series of Poker will continue a decade-long overall trend of setting records for both the number of participants and the number of countries they come from.
In addition to growth across all the preliminary bracelet events, the WSOP Main Event will grow for the second straight year after a 2007 UIGEA-influenced drop in attendance. The entry fees of more than 8,000 players will create the second-largest tournament winner's purse in history.
That purse won't be awarded right away, however. Optimistic about the increased ratings its "November Nine" experiment generated in 2008, WSOP management will delay the Main Event final table for the second straight year.
Responding to criticisms by bloggers that the television package in November hadn't really been worth the wait, ESPN will focus on only the last six players in its three-hour coverage, creating the WSOP's first "September Six."
While Nevada gaming regulations will once again prevent the final table from being shown live, the footage will be broadcast on the same day as the winner is crowned.
For the first time, no one over the age of 30 will make the Main Event final table. All of the final nine are professional online poker players who came of age in the post-Moneymaker era.
On the day that the Main Event concludes, cards will get in the air in London for the third edition of WSOP Europe. The successful competition will add another event, bringing to five the number of gold bracelets handed out overseas each year.
Rumors will swirl that the WSOP is planning to emulate its European event in a nontraditional market, but WSOP execs will stay mum on the issue through the end of the year.
After years of bleeding cash and a tumultuous 2008 that saw the company threatened with delisting by NASDAQ, WPT Enterprises will undergo a radical restructuring of its business model.
Instead of being primarily a television production company with high overhead costs, WPTE will evolve into a poker tournament production company.
By running the popular tournaments itself and hiring a third-party production company to create its TV product, the WPT will maximize the value of its new contract with Fox Sports, trim operating costs, and put itself in position to become profitable for the first time in its history.
The end result for players won't change much in the short term, but in the long term this development points toward sponsored tournaments with added prize-pool cash.
The European Poker Tour will bolster its runaway success in 2009 by focusing on strengthening its schedule. By adding new tournaments in Finland and Estonia and adding High Roller events for several of the older events on the schedule, the tour guarantees the largest prize pools in its history and attracts players from all over the world. The prestige of the EPT only increases when two events are won by well-known pros from the U.S.
Meanwhile the international spread of online poker will continue to grow at rapid rates in the South American and Asian markets, creating widespread support for the growing Asian Poker Tour, Asia Pacific Poker Tour and Latin American Poker Tour schedules.
The buy-ins for all the tours' events will go up as a result, creating larger prize pools that begin to attract more well-known professional players from more established poker nations. All three tours add new stops for the late 2009-early 2010 season.
The Kentucky Case
The domain name seizure case in the state of Kentucky will be thrown out by an appeals court panel early in the year. Judges will dismiss arguments that a domain name is a "gambling instrument," noting that the original definition of that term referred to objects such as slot machines and roulette wheels that allowed people to take part in games of chance.
The judges will also question the state's claim of jurisdiction over companies legally licensed and operating out of other countries, without going all the way and denying the state such authority.
Several Internet advocacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, will remark that leaving that question open sets a dangerous legal precedent for governments around the world to censor Internet content of which they disapprove.
UIGEA reaches its end
After years of being either ambivalent or outright hostile to online gambling, the government of the United States will finally change its approach when Barack Obama becomes the country's 44th president.
Whereas the previous administration had been populated by social conservatives eager to outlaw all forms of gambling on the Internet, the incoming administration has more pressing issues at large and doesn't need the headaches caused by UIGEA-sparked trade disputes with allies.
President Obama will sign into law two bills: Rep. Shelley Berkley's bill, approving a study of online gambling by the National Academy of Sciences in order to determine whether regulation of the industry is feasible, and Rep. Barney Frank's bill preventing the Treasury Department from enforcing UIGEA regulations.
With the exception of sports betting (thanks to heavy lobbying from the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball), the NAS study will recommend that online gambling be legalized and regulated by the United States government.
The study's authors will identify a number of areas that will require close scrutiny from regulators, including checks to ensure minors cannot access gambling sites and to provide help to problem gamblers. Limits on advertising will also be recommended. The study will also make note of the UltimateBet and Absolute Poker scandals of 2008 and stress the need for oversight to prevent cheating in online poker.
Before year's end, legislation is being drawn up to explicitly legalize the online gambling industry, and the major American casino companies begin looking into a full online presence within the U.S.
With UIGEA neutralized, the U.S. government will be finally be able to resolve its trade disputes over online gambling with Antigua and the EU with an eye to repairing its international reputation. In addition to opening up the U.S. market for competition, U.S. gambling operators are now free to operate in other countries as well.
PokerListings continues to pwn!!!
One prediction that we can make with 100% accuracy is that whatever happens in 2009, PokerListings will be here to bring it all to you. Whether you're looking for live tournament coverage, reviews of the best online poker rooms or news and insight into the poker industry, PokerListings will continue to be your top source for all things poker.
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