Friday, August 24, 2007

The New York Times has an article on the trade dispute between Antigua and the United States over online gambling. It's remarkable how the United States turned victory into defeat in this case; all they had to do to be in compliance with the W.T.O. order was outlaw domestic online gambling, which means placing horseracing bets online (to the best of my knowledge, this is the only online gambling legal in the U.S., though there could be some state lottery with an online component I'm unfamiliar with). Instead, the Bush administration and congress decided to act like children, pass further restrictions on online gambling while specifically excluding the horseracing industry from such legislation, choosing to ignore the W.T.O. (which, when China does it, is considered by the U.S. as an affront to Western Civilization). As Mark Mendel, Antigua's man in Geneva, notes, "This isn’t a case of forcing gambling on a population that has decided they don’t like it. This is the world’s biggest consumer and exporter of gambling services trying to prohibit a small country from developing its economy by offering these same services. And we find that deeply hypocritical.”

This seems like as good a time as any to discuss a new service the U.S.' draconian online gambling laws has forced me to resort to, Club UBT. Club UBT is a legal service which offers poker and blackjack tournaments. They are legal because the tournaments themselves are free, once you pay a membership fee, which starts at about $20/month (if you prepay quarterly or annually, you save a bit). They have a fair amount of tournaments throughout the day for small stakes ($10 winner-takes-all tourneys are commonplace), a few a day with larger payouts ($100-$200 total paid to the top four places), and about one a day with a "fabulous" prize (jewelry, electronics, etc.). They also have occasional satellites to win entry into larger tournaments, for instance, a $10,000 prize pool tournament in poker, or on the blackjack side you can win entry into a major, televised blackjack tournament at Barona casino (airfare is included, which does me no good, living thirty minutes from Barona--but I have won entry into the tournament to win entry into that tournament).

I've been a member about a month and a half, and at the conclusion of my two-week free trial membership, I purchased a quarterly membership for around $50. I do recommend Club UBT for those jonesing for an online gambling fix, and who aren't willing to play the game of pre-paid debit cards and cloak-and-daggar maneuvers to cash out from grey-market online casinos. But I recommend the service with some reservation. The prizes are fairly meager, though they seem to be adding more cash tournaments (though mostly in the $10-$20 prize pool range). And the merchandise prizes are mostly things I would never purchase for myself, and are of course appraised at full retail price. So, should you win a tournament and receive a $5,000 watch, your $5,000 win will be reported to the IRS, while you'll be lucky to sell it for half that (though if you're the type who wears $5,000 watches, it does look like a nice watch). And on the low end, the prizes look like things that would turn up in Big Lots and other stores at vastly reduced prices (I've seen the iHome iPod stereo for less than half what they claim it's worth). In fact, on their list of current prizes, only the Blu-Ray DVD player really interests me. But that's okay, as I've found enough cash tournaments to keep me entertained. And so far, I've won a total of $75, which was paid to me via check quite swiftly. Of course, for the amount of time I've put in playing tournaments, a profit of less than $25 is rather pathetic, but the point of this site, at least as things stand now, isn't to get rich, but to have fun playing poker and blackjack, and possibly turn a small profit or win a few trinkets. And hopefully, as they gain more subscribers, they will be able to offer more prizes.

One other thing I should note, as it was instrumental in my decision to become a paid member, is that a subscription to Club UBT includes a subscription to All-In magazine (I would not pay for this publication, but for free, it's a decent perk) and, more importantly, a membership with Las Vegas Advisor. I've had a membership with them off and on for several years; I didn't renew recently because I haven't made it to Vegas much. But including the membership (a $50/year value) with Club UBT makes it a great deal. The Advisor's newsletter is worth a read, and last I checked, the message boards were one of the few Vegas internet forums not overrun by trolls. But the main perk of a Las Vegas Advisor membership is their coupon book. For me, the value is moderate; I mostly just use the matchplay coupons, as most of my food in Vegas is comped anyway, and I generally travel solo. But in addition to gambling coupons (matchplays, free slot play, etc), there are great dining, lodging, and entertainment deals here. 50% off up to $50 on pretty much anything at the Palms, lots of great 2-for-1 buffets and shows, some nice room deals. The point is, the inclusion of the Las Vegas Advisor basically knocks about a quarter off the cost of Club UBT, if you assume you'd have joined LVA on your own for $50.

But even on its own, Club UBT is a decent deal. The most you can lose is your membership fee, you potentially can win a tidy profit (everything I win in the next two months or so is pure profit for me), the software, while not as good as the top tier online casinos, is perfectly acceptable, and it certainly satisfies my craving for gambling between trips to the Indian casinos. If you're a gambler, I'd recommend at least giving the two-week free trial a go (as I didn't cancel, I can't speak to the ease of cancellation, or lack thereof). And if you see Flealick raising, I'd get out of the way.

UPDATE: Since I was tooting my horn about my big $75 in winnings since I joined the site, I should mention that, less than 12 hours after writing this post, I had doubled my winnings to date up to $150, with a $75 third place in a blackjack tournament. So if it sounds like I'm bitching above about the prizes being meager, I'll concede that they do have some tournaments with decent prizes, given the membership fee.

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