Should We Care if People in the US use a VPN?

I recently tweeted out the question as to whether or not people think it’s cheating if a player in the United States circumvents the TOS of a site and uses a VPN to play online poker on their site. The majority of respondents (76%) to the poll don’t think it is unethical or cheating.

So what are we talking about here? If you follow the letter of the law, breaking the rules is cheating. The next question for me is, who exactly are you cheating? You are cheating the US Government who is unjustly infringing on your ability to sit on your couch and play online poker.

An argument can be made that you would have an advantage over other Americans who choose to follow the unjust law and/or don’t want to risk getting caught and having their funds seized. Many American online players will leave the country to play in a big online series which has other costs associated with it. Travel and accommodations.

So the player who takes the risk of playing illegally from the US doesn’t have to incur these expenses. Once the cards are dealt, there is no inherent advantage for the VPNer. Having said that, if the VPNer gets caught, which is a real possibility, they risk losing all of their funds.

In a recent case, Gordon Vayo was found to be playing illegally from the US and went on to win $600,000 in a tournament. His risky decision cost him $600,000. Had he made the trip and incurred the expenses of travel and room, he would be about $596,000 richer. Things got worse for Vayo when he tried to sue, claiming he was outside of the US. It was later found that he was, in fact. playing from the US and was counter sued for $280,000. The charges were later dropped against Vayo, but had they not been, his decision to VPN rather than travel would have cost him nearly one million dollars.

Vayo didn’t have a competitive advantage once the cards were dealt. He simply got to play from the comfort of his home rather than a hotel room. As we’ve touched on, this proved to put him at quite a DISADVANTAGE since he not only didn’t get paid his winnings, but had all of his funds stripped away. All those that followed the rules and left the country didn’t have to worry about getting their funds confiscated.

So are the other players in the tournament being “cheated” by a player using a VPN? I don’t think so. Is the online operator being “cheated” by this player? No. There really is no victim here outside of the player using the VPN when he gets caught. He pays the ultimate price. No one else is affected whatsoever.

You could argue that a pro playing from home makes the tourney tougher and takes equity away from the other players. True, but that same player could enter the tournament by simply traveling outside the US to play. He takes away equity whether he is on his own couch, or a couch in Mexico.

Whatever side of the debate you are on, I can respect that, but I personally don’t think less of a person who chooses to take that risk. I don’t think they are hurting the integrity of the game one iota.


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. Let’s take a look at an absurd example to illustrate my point:

The country of Angola doesn’t want it’s citizens to be able to purchase Hollywood movies on Itunes. The country forbids it. Should Apple be responsible for making sure that no one in Angola is able to download music on Itunes? Should Apple spend one red cent to adhere to a government regulation that is outside that government’s jurisdiction? Of course not, it’s absurd.

But online poker companies do. They bow down to the US Government and eat it. Why? In the hopes of being able to re-enter the market if online poker is regulated in the future.

Is there any oversight happening in the US Government to ensure these sites are policing whether or not people are using a VPN? I highly doubt it.

I don’t have a problem with a site saying, “Yeah, yeah, we won’t let US players play on our site” as mostly lip service, but to actively seek people out who are doing so, and confiscate their funds, seems like its just not in their best interest whatsoever. What do they get out of it? Being sold the pipe dream that they will have a chance to reenter the US if regulation ever happens at the federal level. I wouldn’t hold my breath folks. It’s not happening any time soon or likely ever.

“If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”
-Thomas Jefferson