For it not being April Fool's Day, yesterday was a stand-out effort.
I was up at the crack of nine or so, more by accident than anything else. That's about the earliest anyone will ever hear from me on Mondays, since covering the online events that start on Sunday nights always runs into the Monday a.m. hours. This last time those ran later than normal, due to the large attendance in FTOPS #3 over at Full Tilt; it was about 3:30 a.m. my time when I sent the week's writeup over to John Caldwell and curled up on the couch for some shut-eye.
I checked my e-mail first thing, of course, upon my waking. I admit fully to having an Internet addiction and I'll please have a little more juice, thank you. Anyway, I had a quick note from Lou asking me if I'd heard anything on the Doyle arrest rumors --- I hadn't, of course --- but I promised to snoop around. I figured I was several hours behind the story, anyway, and wasn't likely to catch up in any meaningful way. I also did my normal Monday check-in with Schecky (that's Caldwell), via chat, which started like this:
John: No, I don't know if Doyle is arrested
Yeah, that's how my day started. We all know that the rumors kept building, and several bloggers went right out and proclaimed "Doyle Brunson Arrested," without waiting on the facts, which turned out to be not to be true. Does one really think the first report of Doyle being arrested is likely to appear on a relatively new user's posting on an Australian poker site? Well, that's where the ball started rolling.
Meanwhile, I was off on a different wild-goose chase of my own, and it turned out that I would get caught without all the facts, either. I ran across the snippet about PokerBandits.ca that Chris Hanel had posted over at April's place. (And congrats on the graduation, April!) Anyhow, Chris wrote about how this site had promised to show U.S. players how to get around the UIGEA ban and play on their site of choice, no matter whether or not that room allowed U.S. players. The hook, though, was that the site had been told to be shut down by the U.S. FBI and Canadian trade authorities.
Indeed, the site's content had been taken down and replaced with a notice saying that the site had been closed. But checking through Google caches of various site pages, I was able to uncover the original forum content and determine why the site seemed to have been yanked. The main forum post, also alluded to in an erstwhile (and partly bogus) press release from Jan. 25, detailed how to "get around" the UIGEA.
The post mentioned the use of anonymizing browsers and web connections, something I wrote about a couple of months ago, but it also then went into what was basically identity theft, suggesting that the player use a common name of someone already known to be living in Canada, then create one's own financial connections attached to that stolen name/address. Clearly, this would be an unwise way of trying to circumvent the process, but that's how it was laid out.
The site as it appeared yesterday was what I've encountered numerous times in very small-scale operations that skirt the line. They get some sort of threatening contact from a governmental agency, or a major corporation in copyright-infringement examples, with said call simply a way of applying heat to make the offending content go away. In the Napster era I saw this type of thing literally dozens of times. And since this pokerbandits.ca site had not actually commited a crime, but was merely offering instructions on how such a thing could be done, it was definitely in the class of grey-area sites that get told to shut it down before things get out of hand.
I also looked into the site's domain registration, which looked wholly bogus to my well-trained eye. It went to what appeared to be a Canadian government office, and it also looked as though the press releases that were issued by this site were cobbled up out of thin air. (Subsequent investigation by another outlet showed the press releases' contact information to be bogus as well, but given the seedy nature, I didn't even bother to check.) Nor am I likely to call the FBI and ask, because they don't release info on pending internal investigations.
Anyhow, I wrote up a cute little piece on the matter and fired it off to PokerNews, and it turned out to be not quite right. John thankfully killed it for me, because what can not be verified at this point is whether the site was forced to be turned off for real, whether the site's owner got pwned by someone posing as a governmental official, or whether the whole thing was a weird Level-19 hoax serving no real purpose.
Bizarre. And all happening while the Doyle mess was unfolding as well.
As for this PokerBandits site, John forwarded me a link to a Casino City Times article that appeared much later yesterday, while John was trying to verify some of the stuff. John's very careful about such things, which, y'know, is why he's the editor. Seems like the Casino City writer actually did contact all the possible legal entities who were reported to be involved in shutting down the site... and none of them were.
In the words of the late Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out there?" Well, who knows? It now seems as though the PokerBandits site committed hara-kiri, and one can only wonder why. While I'm thankful John had the good sense to toss my piece into the trashcan where it belonged, there's still the open question as to what really happened. Here's some possible scenarios:
1) The site was forced down for real, in the manner described, and the government agency simply didn't track it properly, or gave misinformation to the Casino City writer. Probability: Low. After all, what's the point?
2) The site was taken down after the owner panicked, probably after receiving a call or e-mail from someone posing as a government official. Probability: Medium. As to why this might have occurred, it could have been done by someone who did the same WHOIS lookup I did, saw the bogus information, and was offended by it. It could also have been done by a Canadian citizen who had his identity pilfered and trcaed it back to the PokerBandits site, or it could have been done by someone who tried the methods described, got caught cheating and lost a few bucks in the process, and decided to get back at the PokerBandits site.
3) The whole thing was a weird, publicity-garnering hoax, the conclusion that the Casino City writer reaches. Probability: Medium. Again, if it was a hoax, it was a damn stupid one, because the owner of the site has now drawn attention to himself from the very same governmental agencies he never had to mess with in the first place, if the Casino City story was correct. Given that the original domain-registration was bogus --- it was just updated again yesterday --- and given that the site recommended a form of identity fraud/theft, why in heaven's name would someone choose this method for publicizing one's name? The domain has existed since October, meaning that it has been bought and paid for by a real person for at least four months, even if that person may hiding his identity. Even with bogus registration information, the real owner could now be traced, since all the fake-credit-card domain purchases wash out of the system in 30 to 60 days. Good luck, dude, whoever you are. Expect a knock for real, from guys in dark suits.
That said, I think the Casino City writer did a great job, and that he still doesn't have it quite right. Hoax or not, the pieces still do not add up. And as for me, I'm washing my hands of it.