Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

It's Always Something - Rick Springfield (mp3)
Lose You - Pete Yorn (mp3)

Last Friday, Tax Day, the FBI shut down the three largest online poker sites in the United States.

Saturday night, I rewatched Chinatown for the first time in over a decade and watched one of the special features that came with the movie, where screenwriter Robert Towne and Jack “Jake Gittes” Nicholson were both interviewed about the experience.

Towne’s script was inspired by a number of very real experiences and conversations, which is how a movie originally titled “Water and Power” -- a great title, by the way -- could end up being named after a location which only shows up for the last three minutes of the film. Towne explained that, in conversation with a friend who had once worked law enforcement in Chinatown, the man had said the best thing for American law enforcement to do in Chinatown was “as little as possible.” Because they were surrounded by a people and a culture they couldn’t translate and couldn’t understand, they were never sure whether they were doing something that would benefit justice... or whether they were being played and manipulated by various nefarious forces.

Or, as SparkNotes puts it: “Chinatown, a place where secret organizations rule, the law is meaningless, and good intentions are brutally suppressed, serves as the symbol for the true nature of every city.”

If you haven't seen this amazing film and don’t feel like reaching back to what a panel of Guardian (UK) critics declared “The greatest film of all time,” then how about a reference to Die Hard?

“You asked for miracles, Theo? I give you the F.B.I.”

These are the words of Severus Snape (he went by "Hans Gruber" in 1988), smiling with maniacal glee as the feds follow their playbook and provide the criminals with exactly the help they need to rob Nakatomi Plaza of its precious store of barabonds (not to be confused with Barry Bonds).

In regards to the shutdown of online poker, the owners and CEOs of casinos all over this great land of ours are smiling maniacally, watching as the FBI follows its playbook and buffs out one of the biggest dents in their Indian Reservation business.

"These defendants, knowing full well that their business with U.S. customers and U.S. banks was illegal, tried to stack the deck," said Janice Fedarcyk, FBI assistant director-in-charge. "They lied to banks about the true nature of their business. Then, some of the defendants found banks willing to flout the law for a fee. The defendants bet the house that they could continue their scheme, and they lost."

I can’t personally recall the last time a high-ranking law enforcement suit, upon making a serious criminal bust, found himself or herself so tickled with puns. “Stack the deck”? “Bet the house”? I somehow doubt that if she had just busted a child pornography ring or captured a serial killer, she would be having fun using words involved with the trade. Strangely, she never chose to utter the phrase "victimless crime."

It’s just online poker. It’s hardly even illegal, really, otherwise we wouldn’t have entire cities and towns built around monstrosities erected merely for such activity, and we wouldn’t have hundreds of hours worth of TV programming dedicated to the “game of chance.”

It’s hardly illegal, but it’s illegal enough, and the FBI has every right to act. Even if Bugsy Malone and Noah Cross and dozens of wealthy shady figures sit in their back rooms, counting their extra money and laughing at how beneficial the FBI can be for their own business. I’m sure those men will kick a little extra here and their to some elected officials. Legally, of course.

As a regular online player who rarely won much and rarely lost much, online poker was merely a cheaper and more convenient way to throw away money than golf. It was cheaper than World of Warcraft or keeping up with the video game universe. It was a modestly-competitive but ultimately harmless game. I will miss playing it, but the system wasn’t getting rich off me, and I wasn’t getting rich off the system. My reaction to all this news was simple:

Forget it, Billy. It’s Chinatown.


troutking said...

My thought is illegal is illegal. Money laundering and millions in lost tax income are never a good thing. Not to mention laws that are easy to skirt do, in my opinion, reduce respect for laws in general. Perhaps this action will have the consequence of forcing a real debate on online gambling so it doesn't exist in no man's land.

Hank said...

Isn't it "Bearer Bonds"?

Billy said...

@Hank - Only to people who have any inkling about money. To the rest of us, it's "barabonds."

@trout - The real debate will occur once these sites are crippled so that the feds can pass laws allowing corporations like Harrah's to come in and take over. See: "Tucker" starring Jeff Bridges.

troutking said...

So glad you have decided to join the Party. Meetings are at my house on Thursdays, comrade. Pres Obama is our guest speaker this week.