Forum Files: End-of-Year Miscellany

Alex Weldon : December 28th, 2015

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It’s been a quiet week on the poker forums, as one would expect for the holidays. Many people have been too busy exchanging gifts and eating turkey to bother posting much, and meanwhile there’s been relatively little to talk about. After all, the professional poker world is more or less on break until things resume next week with the PCA and WPT National Philippines.

Still, though there isn’t enough new content to produce a theme for this week’s Forum Files, there are a handful of interesting stories being discussed. Here they are, ideally to be enjoyed alongside a glass of whatever high-quality alcoholic beverage Santa brought you this year.

What’s Sheldon want with a newspaper?
Thread: Sheldon Adelson is the real buyer behind the Las Vegas Review-Journal

Las Vegas’s only major daily newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was recently purchased for $140 million by a newly-incorporated company called the News and Media Capital Group. The relatively high price tag for the sale and the mystery surrounding the purchasing entity was enough to get tongues wagging, and now it has come out via anonymous sources and reported in the New York Times, that the money behind the deal comes from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson is one of the main opponents of legal, regulated online poker and gambling in the United States, believing that a thriving online market will undermine his brick-and-mortar operations. So, while the purchase of a local newspaper has nothing directly to do with poker, any news involving Adelson sparks speculation about whether it will end up being bad for poker. Perhaps he could use his new media outlet as a platform for decrying the risks of online gambling?

Even on the hysteria-prone poker forums, however, it seems that consensus is that the purchase probably has less to do with poker and more to do with the upcoming US presidential election. Nevada is, after all, a swing state, and Adelson has long been willing to throw large sums of money at attempting to secure Republican victories. There are other possible ulterior motives too, not mentioned in the thread but brought up by the paper itself, for which he might want a team of journalists at his disposal.

Who the heck is Helen Ellis?
Thread: NY Times article on ‘high stakes poker player’ Helen Ellis

The second interesting story of the week likewise comes by way of the New York Times. It’s a human interest piece about a woman named Helen Ellis, a housewife and aspiring writer who also plays what she and the New York Times refer to as “high stakes poker.” The stakes she actually plays wouldn’t actually be considered “high stakes” in the professional poker world – three- and four-figure buy-in tournaments and unspecified cash game stakes – but would understandably seem that way to the general public.

The story itself is interesting, but so is the forums’ response to it. There’s quite a spectrum of reactions. At one extreme are those who think it’s ridiculous that some woman they’ve never heard of, with a modest list of tournament cashes, gets referred to as a “high stakes” player and has a piece written up about her in the New York Times. At the other end, there are those who think that a housewife who writes and plays semiprofessional poker on the side sounds like an interesting person, and don’t mind that the article isn’t written from the perspective of a professional poker insider. There are also many who don’t particularly care about her specifically, but recognize that such articles are good for bringing new blood (and money) into the game.

How big a deal is the Kentucky judgment to Amaya?
Thread: Will state to state lawsuits destroy Amaya? Shareholders right to sue?

Although the forums community has started to resign itself to the PokerStars changes and the whining is dying down, the ill-will towards PokerStars and especially its parent company Amaya remains. There are several threads going about various ways bankruptcy could be looming on Amaya’s horizon, and eventuality many posters are rooting for. The latest of these threads regards the recent summary judgment passed by a Kentucky judge, ordering PokerStars to pay the state $870 million for losses incurred by Kentucky-based players during the site’s illegal operations in the US pre-Black Friday.

The judgment is in the process of being appealed and is generally considered unlikely to stand, but in the meantime, forums member “johnnyfry2″ wonders whether, if ultimately upheld, the judgment could spark other states to follow suit. If that ended up being the case, and if additional lawsuits were successful for similar amounts, it would almost certainly sink the company; after all, $870 million is somewhere around 10-15% of Amaya’s total net worth.

Unfortunately, most of the opinions in the thread are based on misunderstandings of the situation and the relevant laws, but there’s still some interesting information to be had, once sprinkled with sufficient grains of salt. In particular, one detail which was brought up in the thread but has been overlooked in other coverage of the case is that the previous owners of PokerStars (i.e. the Scheinbergs) were required as part of the sale to put $300 million in escrow to deal with the case.

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