Spent a fair bit of time yesterday following the Jose Machedo / Haseeb Qureshi / Dan Cates online poker scandal. For the purpose of this post I'll assume you're familiar with the salient details. If you're not, skim over these links:
NEW Cliffs/news of the ongoing Jose "girah" Macedo scandal
The Portuguese Poker Prodigy Jose "girah" Macedo scammed HSNL players
To be clear about this, not much has been proven. Macedo has admitted trying to "superuse" HSNL regulars by teamviewing their screens while playing against him or an account to which he was feeding information. Cates is allowing rampant speculation to fill the void left by his silence (the Full Tilt problem). Qureshi seems to be caught in a pile of conflicting lies, with most signs pointing to some shady dealings in the high-stakes poker world, but at this point has said he won't answer any further questions and is "done" with poker world.
Cates, at 23, is the oldest of the three. Qureshi is 21 and Macedo is 18.
I hate to draw a comparison to professional athletes but we often see young professional athletes make grave lapses of judgment. To an extent it is part of the maturation process, part of the "growing up" process. People make mistakes.
The difference between those athletes and young poker players is that in addition to the reputational hit an athlete takes, there are real repercussions for their transgressions: team and league discipline (which can take the form of fines and suspensions); the inability to avoid the unrelenting eye of the public and the press; perhaps even jail time and the loss of their careers, depending on the nature of the offense.
Professional athletes have handlers and team and league personnel to help guide them away from such lapses of judgment -- and to force them to deal with the fallout when those lapses do occur.
Young poker players, on the other hand, have no such guidance. They also don't have to deal with most of the repercussions, because the industry is so poorly regulated. One immutable truth that has come out of the online poker industry over its roughly ten years of existence is that most scandals drift away on the winds of time with, at most, a reputational hit to the perpetrators. Russ Hamilton and the lingering stench of whatever really happened at UB is the lone exception, but even UB got a pass from many players who continued to play on the site.
When you've worked hard for a significant number of years to develop a sterling reputation, losing that reputation can be devastating. The perpetrators of most online poker scams, however, haven't worked hard to develop much of anything. They all tend to (a) be incredibly young (early 20s); (b) lack "real world" experience; and (c) have spent the last 2-3 years making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars playing what, to them, is often viewed as a video game. Their reputations, such as they are, don't mean much to them, so losing those reputations in the face of a discovered scam isn't a deterrent.
I'm not saying that better regulation will solve the problem. As long as there are substantial sums of money involved, people will look for shortcuts. But in the absence of any tangible, significant repercussions -- some of which regulation would surely provide -- fewer people will be deterred from those shortcuts than would otherwise be the case.
Poster "otis_nixon" summed it up perfectly:
The great thing for [Qureshi], Jungleman and Girah is that poker players have very short memories and in 6 months most people will barely remember this. There is no better group of people to try to steal money from because people forget so fast and there are very rarely any real-world repercussions.