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Sheldon Adelson’s Minions: The Return of James Thackston

laptop-chipsVenetian owner Sheldon Adelson’s war on online gambling has popped up again in a new way, this time with the reemergence of an old online-gambling foe, one James Thackston.  Thackston, an otherwise anonymous software engineer by trade, was also one of the four co-signers of a recent attack piece on online poker pumped out via the freebie service PRNewswire a couple of weeks ago, claiming that internet poker is the next big thing for international money launderers and drug cartels.

It’s a pile of hooey, all of it.  

Thackston, who cosigned that fear-mongering letter along with James Kindt, Michael Fagan and Earl Grinols, has kept himself busy with his attacks on online poker.   I actually feel a bit sorry for this guy, because it’s quite clear that he’s a fervent believer in what he says, but is so bubbled in by his methods of thought that he can’t understand that while his concept might be technologically plausible, it’s simply not workable, for a whole host of reasons he doesn’t bother to consider.

Unlike people who now seem to be exploiting him for political gain, I don’t get the sense that Thackston is inherently evil, despite his decade or more of incessant fear-mongering and his links to the awful Focus on the Family (below).  His is just a different variant on what the “online poker is rigged” crowd usually offers, and he’s just knowledgeable enough in a software and programming sense to be dangerous in his wrongheaded beliefs.

It’s those beliefs that lead him to a horribly false conclusion — that online poker represents a vastly profitable and untapped avenue for the laundering of millions and millions of dollars of third-world drug money into the US, including the bribing of politicians, the collapse of society, and Lord knows what else.

It’s a pile of hooey, all of it.

Thackston is an old hand at wanting to ban online poker.  A decade ago, he launched a site called PoliticsOfPoker.com, which put forth many of the same silly arguments that he’s now offered on his latest site, UndetectableLaundering.com. Thackston has recycled much of his PoliticsOfPoker foolishness for use on his latest domain, although the originals of many of his old POP claims can be found on what appears to be his Scribd account, Wrecker94.

Thackston has also long been associated with a strident anti-gambling group, the far-right Focus on the Family, which is the worst type of nanny-state, anti-liberty organization one can imagine.  The religiously themed FoF is all about controlling the lives of others who have beliefs that differ from theirs, and online gambling just happens to be one of the group’s favorite straw-man targets for its real goals.  They’ve been a backer and publisher of Thackston’s efforts for several years, and both the FoF home page and Thackston’s own site feature material from and links to the other.

The gist of Thackston’s argument boils down to these claims:

  • Laundering via online poker can be made “undetectable,” if done skillfully enough;
  • Because some major cash pots have been awarded in online poker (Thackston and friends cite the multi-million-dollar showdown between Brian Hastings and Viktor Blom as an example), there are just millions and millions of dollars in drug funds online, waiting to be laundered;
  • Geo-location is ineffective at determining the exact locale of a given user, and locations can be spoofed;
  • Account-identification information can be spoofed as well, according to Thackston.

It’s a pile of hooey, [almost] all of it.

The only point which is even partially supportable is the claim regarding geo-location inaccuracies and possible spoofing of locale.  I’m not going to pretend otherwise; there are numerous extant examples of VPN spoofing, some even involving online poker.  But the ability to spoof one’s location is of little value if one must have genuine and verifiable ID to be able to play online poker for real money.

Thackston is at least eight years or so behind reality when it comes to ID verification, which is now standard operating procedure for all legitimate online poker sites, whether international or one of the new US-based offerings.  Claiming otherwise is just ridiculous, and in one of his online examples he portrays four cheating and money-laundering accounts at a given tables being linked to four other computers, hidden behind the scenes, which are supposed to be the real IDs and machines of the money launderers.

The only problem with that, which Thackston conveniently overlooks, is that the ID verifications, money transfers, and computer logs are all tied to the computers doing the actual playing.  The only way money can be cashed out from those accounts — particularly on all of the regulated US sites doing business to date, where player-to-player transfers are forbidden — is to do it via the account that’s actually being played, which has name, address and banking information all pre-verified.

That doesn’t fit too well with Thackston’s doomsday laundering scenario.

It’s just one example of at least a dozen things that are ridiculously, obviously wrong with Thackston’s claims regarding online poker being suitable as a major money-laundering channel.  This is one of those areas where the proof is in its history: There simply aren’t any significant examples of money laundering being used to move drug money into the US in the way Thackston claims, despite 15 years of online poker history and tens of millions of online poker players participating in the game.  You’d think he stop to wonder why this is so.

What’s amazing is that not only has Thackston’s work resurfaced, but that it’s suddenly being hailed as PROOF!! that online poker should be banned.  His work is being pushed out by a far-right, conservative commentator who appears on both FOXNews and CNN, Cheri Jacobus.  Jacobus (@cherijacobus on Twitter), has admitted to communicating with both Focus on the Family and Sheldon Adelson’s new Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling on the matter, though she denies being funded by either group.  Nonetheless, the fact that Adelson appears to be communicating with such an anti-gambling stalwart as FoF, at least via an intermediary such as Jacobus) is as dumbfounding as it is hypocritical.

Yet Thackston and his ridiculous money-laundering assertions beat at the heart of the latest news.  We’ll examine some of the other fun material associated with Thackston’s resurfacing in near-future posts, with those meaty topics including the manipulation of FBI statements, Thackston’s and Jacobus’s public challenges to pro-online institutions, such as the PPA and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, the launching of a call to US state Attorneys General to ask Congress for a federal ban on online gambling, and other interesting developments.

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