Are US online poker players who use a VPN to access offshore sites cheating? Daniel Negreanu says no way!
For many years now, online poker has been illegal in the United States. The federal government passed the UIGEA in 2006 making it so, and when most of the world’s internet poker operators ignored it, the US Department of Justice stretched its mighty arm of the law, swatting PokerStars, Absolute Poker and Full Tilt like flies. That was in 2011 – the year everyone took notice.
Since then, most major operators have banned
American players, except for those who managed to snag a license to
operate in one of the few states that now regulate the activity. They
enforce this ban by blocking any player with an IP address that
pin-points their location as being anywhere in the United States. But
there is a way around it…
Using a VPN to Access Online Poker Sites
A VPN is a virtual private network that cloaks
the user’s real IP address, altering it to mimic that of an IP from a
different location. For example, someone in Texas could use a VPN to
make it appear that they are actually located in Vancouver, Montreal,
or Saskatchewan. By doing so, the poker site’s geo-location system
tells the servers that the player is logging in from Canada, thereby
allowing them to access the games.
It doesn’t always work, though. The famous case
of Gordon Vayo and his $700k tournament win at PokerStars 2017 SCOOP
made global headlines. He was denied the cash when PokerStars accused
him of using a VPN. Vayo sued the company, claiming he was in
Montreal at the time. PokerStars counter-sued when evidence revealed
that Vayo had gone so far as to forge documents to prove his
innocence, when he was, in fact, using a VPN to play from his living
room in Los Angeles, California.
Is Using a VPN Really Cheating?
As far as the US government is concerned, using
a VPN to access offshore online poker sites is illegal. But is it
cheating? Is it unethical? This was the question posed by Daniel
Negreanu in a recent Twitter poll, and the answer was an overwhelming
Negreanu doesn’t see using a VPN as cheating,
and explained his viewpoint in a recent
blog post on his popular poker forum, Full Contact Poker.
“If you follow the letter of the law, breaking the rules is cheating. The next question for me is, who exactly are you cheating?”
Negreanu says the US government is the only
entity getting cheated by it, then suggests that it’s okay because
the US government “is unjustly infringing on your ability to sit
on your couch and play online poker” anyway. While this part of
the argument may have you cringing a bit, he does go on to make a
No Competitive Advantage Once the Cards are Dealt
Now remember, the question is not whether it’s
illegal. It’s a question of morality. Is using a VPN a form of
Daniel admits on could argue that one American
may have an advantage over a fellow American by using a VPN. One
might stay home and play, incurring no additional costs, while
another pays travel expenses and accommodations to vacation in Canada
during a major online poker tournament. Then again, the traveler
paying to avoid the risk, the VPN user is risking the forfeiture of
everything invested on the poker site, plus any winnings they may get
out of the tournament.
But once the cards are dealt – once the
tournament has begun – does the use of a VPN give anyone an
advantage over their opponents? No. A player’s skill exists in the
United States, Canada, Mexico, or wherever they may be sitting while
playing the game.
Why Do Online Poker Sites Care About VPN Users?
Another point Negreanu raises is this – why
do offshore poker sites care so much? Why do they go to so much
trouble to police their player base and ensure no one from the US
gets in? It’s not like the US government is wasting any of their time
doing it. The DOJ popped the industry’s biggest players 8 years ago,
and has sat back comfortably ever since, watching all these operators
that are outside their jurisdiction run around like scared mice ever
All an operator really has to do to stay out of
the DOJs line of fire is state on their website that online gambling
is illegal in the US, and that they don’t condone it – i.e. play at
your own risk. Instead, they go to all this trouble and extra expense
to keep US players out. Why?
The only reason would be to keep a squeaky
clean reputation so that, one day, they might be able to re-enter the
US market. But as we’ve all seen, the menial state by state
regulation that’s happened so far isn’t beginning in glowing profits.
It would take player-pooling all across the globe to bring the US
back to the former billion-dollar market that it could have been
pre-UIGEA, and that’s about as unlikely as a 5-Stud Royal Flush.
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