Poker pro Negreanu stirs up poker community with latest hot take

Why Daniel Negreanu Is Wrong About Online Poker And VPNs

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Is the use of virtual private networks to play online poker a problem?

The topic of VPN use in online poker was recently rekindled by poker pro Daniel Negreanu. The former PokerStars frontman offered up his thoughts on VPN usage in online poker on social media and his website.

As is the case with most Negreanu social media posts, a lot of people chimed and a lively debate ensued. And as is often the case on social media, the nuance of the issue was lost among the 280-character talking points.

The Negreanu perspective

The social media and blog post from Negreanu leave little to the imagination. His general stance on VPN use is one of ambivalence.

Negreanu thinks violators that are caught should face punishment (confiscation of funds or something similar), because they are violating the terms and conditions of the site. However, he doesn’t feel sites should go out of their way to detect VPN use, because it’s a victimless crime.

Negreanu places most of the blame for VPNers from the US at the feet of the federal government and posits that online poker sites should stop enforcing bans on VPNs. Why? Because the prohibition should be enforced by the government, and not fall at the feet of the operator.

Negreanu writes:

“The real puzzling thing for me is why do sites care to waste money and resources on policing this? The US Government isn’t spending a dime to do so, so why should a company outside of their jurisdiction be held to policing something they aren’t morally opposed to? Why is the onus on the company to assure that US players aren’t playing from the US? If the US Government doesn’t want its citizens to use a product, they should police it themselves. It’s absurd to put that on the service provider.”

Online poker is like buying booze?

The problem with that logic is it’s akin to saying that stores with liquor licenses shouldn’t need to card people. If the government doesn’t want underage people buying alcohol they should police it.

The onus is on the company because the company has decided there is value in operating in certain jurisdictions and would like to receive a license to operate said business.  If a company wants to receive and retain licenses in jurisdictions that care about such things, it needs to comply with the rules that are in place.

If a licensed online poker company (in legitimate jurisdictions) wants to stay licensed it has to abide by the laws of the country that issued it a license. In many cases, that requires the company to be in compliance in every country they operate in.

So, just like a bar with a liquor license, an online poker company has to take appropriate steps to make sure that it’s only serving customers it’s legally allowed to serve. What is deemed “appropriate” is typically spelled out in the law, regulations, and/or license.

VPNs are a tool of the 1%

Another problem with Negreanu’s arguments is he intimates that circumventing a site’s VPN policy is something anyone can do. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It takes a lot more than a standard VPN service to set up an account and play at a global dot-com site from the US.

You’d also need falsified proof of address and bank account information from an accepted country. And using GeoComply as an example, a lot more than your standard issue VPN, since US online poker sites prohibit a customer from using a VPN while playing, even if there is nothing nefarious going on.

At an October 17 hearing in IllinoisLindsay Slader, the vice president of regulatory affairs at GeoComply, explained how GeoComply checks up to 350 different data points to verify a person’s location. Not to mention the site has the capability of running a forensic audit after the fact, which is how PokerStars discovered Gordon Vayo was playing from the US.

So the notion that any Tom, Dick or Harry can buy a VPN and start playing on a dot-com site doesn’t hold water.

Bottom line on online poker and VPNs

Negreanu emphatically claims that VPN use isn’t cheating because it doesn’t impact game integrity. However, it’s quite obvious that most people willing to risk playing via a VPN are good players who know people and can afford the several thousand dollars it takes to circumvent the US ban.

As Stephen Reynolds explained to me back in 2013:

“There’s a couple of guys currently who charge you a fee, most of which equate to about $12,000 a year plus you end up paying a percentage to turn the money back into cash,” Reynolds said. “Long story short, I played under the name “Celtik112″ for a period in 2013 and another active Pokerstars Account Name I can’t reveal because I know for a fact it’s still active and being used by someone else.”

The people with the desire and means to circumvent the prohibition are pros, which makes VPN usage anything but a victimless crime, as it injects more winning players into the pool.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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