Online gamblers move to card rooms 

After San Carlos professional poker player Jim Rashleger lost $600 as part of a federal action against online gambling this year, he took what seemed to him the logical step to continue his profession. He got out of the house and traveled to the card rooms.

"My advice for anybody right now is to not play online anymore," Rashleger, 58, said. "I’m just going to go play at casinos. It’s more lucrative that way anyway."

People such as Rashleger, a retired construction worker, have local card room owners paying attention to see if the fallout from the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 will benefit them. Results so far are mixed, with the owners of Colma’s Lucky Chances card room saying they’ve seen a business increase that they think may be related, while staff members at Artichoke Joe’s card room in San Bruno and Garden City Casino is San Jose say increased television publicity for poker is more responsible for new players filling the seats.

Rashleger may still get his money back, but he doesn’t know when or how much. He formerly played poker online at UltimateBet.com, with Isle of Man-based firm Neteller.com acting as the financial intermediary. In January, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York began a court-ordered seizure of up to $55 million of Neteller’s funds as part of its investigation against the company’s two founders. The firm said in a release this month it cannot pay back its customers’ money until an unknown future date.

It also ceased U.S. business operations in January, the result of the federal act introduced by then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and signed by President George Bush in October 2006. The act disallows electronic banking transactions related to online games of chance, and has prompted a massive pullout of online gambling companies from the U.S. market.

Rashleger disagrees that poker is a "game of chance," rather than skill, but is taking his business to San Jose’s Garden City anyway. He said he chose that card room because it has more players and smaller-stakes games than other card rooms.

At least one local card room believes there are others like Rashleger coming in thedoors.

"They have seen an increase in business, and believe it to be a result [of the act]," Lucky Chances attorney Harlan Goodson said. "They do believe it is attributable to the clamping down on Internet gaming."

Others aren’t so sure.

"It’s totally speculative and anecdotal," said Frederick Wyle, the Chapter 11 trustee for Garden City, which is moving out of an eight-year bankruptcy. "It’s very difficult for us to pinpoint an interest in business on any particular cause. We’ve heard that [online gamblers may be coming in], but we’ve also heard that people who want to continue online gambling find ways."

He said the business has increased slightly recently, but attributes a greater overall business over the last six months or more to television shows about poker.

If you have a gambling problem

» Gambler’s Anonymous maintains a hotline for Northern California problem gamblers at (800) 287-8670. It has local meetings in San Francisco, San Mateo, Redwood City and Burlingame; a meeting list is available online.

» A California Council on Problem Gambling help line is available at (800) 522-4700, with more information at their Web Site.

» The NICOS Chinese Health Coalition provides a free help line in Cantonese and Mandarin at (888) 968-7888 for the San Francisco and greater Bay Area.

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