By John Pappas,Executive Director of the Poker Players Alliance

U.S. Online Poker: A Success Story in the Making

John Pappas is executive director for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). He is responsible for overall operations management, strategic initiatives, state and federal lobbying, membership communication and recruitment. Pappas was recently named by Bluff Magazine as one of the most influential people in poker.

United States 
| 11/08/2014

Fractured by ongoing partisanship and the typical stagnation of an election year, the United States Congress today can be best defined by its inaction rather than action. With so few issues being addressed on Capitol Hill, the 2014 mid-term elections signifies the next major opportunity to break the political stalemate and open the door for advancing reforms that meet the growing needs of Americans. As such, the prospects for federal legislation to license and regulate online poker in the near future are slim, drawing attention instead to the states where progress is more promising.

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As New Jersey and Nevada both passed legislation late last year to license and regulate online gambling, many states are now considering how such a move would benefit their residents. This year, Pennsylvania commissioned a study to analyze the benefits of online gambling legislation and the state’s senate held a hearing to publically weigh the pros and cons. California is also making forward progress in the ongoing effort to find consensus between the many stakeholders in the state. Many more states including Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts and Hawaii have shown signs of interest in regulating online gambling either by introducing legislation or raising the issue for discussion. Compared to years past, this is certainly a positive trend, but much more needs to be done to ensure all players across the country have access to a fair environment to play the game of poker.

For years, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has been fighting for legislation to license and regulate online poker in the U.S. Not only would such measures ensure that players have access to a fair environment to play the game they love, but they would also have the reassurance that their own government has the authority to seek out and hold accountable any fraudulent online operator. As it stands in most U.S. states today, the government has no recourse for preventing or taking action against online gambling fraud. 

Just as important are the consumer protections such legislation would offer. Again in most U.S. states, online operators are not required to monitor for underage or problem gambling because there simply are no mandatory standards in place for the industry. Under regulation, only operators approved by the state are allowed to offer online poker and receiving a license depends on the company taking several mandatory actions such as implementing technologies to prevent underage gambling and mitigating compulsive gambling behaviors. 

Of course progress is often followed by criticism. Opponents of online gambling warn that these technologies are simply pilot programs and therefore we cannot be sure they will protect consumers. That is simply not true.  We have only to look at Europe to see that these innovative tools are highly sophisticated and effective. In fact, for over a decade Europe has utilized these technologies to successfully regulate online gambling and protect consumers.

Ironically, since the passage of online gambling in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, very little has been said about the success of these consumer protections. Instead, much of the main stream media has focused on the revenue levels online gambling is providing the state. Naturally, state governments and the reporters who cover them want to focus on the money; however, the untold story of U.S. Internet poker is the tremendous regulatory success. 

Few could have predicted how quickly New Jersey came online and how robust and reliable the consumer protection software and accountability would be. No doubt there have been challenges and there is work to do to improve the player experience, but from a regulatory standpoint it has been a huge success. Nevada too has done a tremendous job of regulating online gambling for over a year and has no underage gambling incidents to report. I doubt the same could be said for the brick-and-mortar casinos in the state. 

As is often the case, when one argument fails, opponents gravitate toward another. This is especially true of one of the game’s most vocal opponents – casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Mr. Adelson has contributed a great deal of money, time and effort into thwarting efforts to pass federal and state legislation to license and regulate online poker. He has even gone as far as to facilitate the introduction of federal legislation which would reverse an interpretation by the Department of Justice which allows states to make their own decisions on legislation. Though he claims his efforts are motivated by societal concerns, his own casino offers online and mobile gambling. Until recently, theVenetian website, owned by Mr. Adelson, boasted, “Is there anything you can’t do on a smartphone or tablet nowadays? Mobile Casino Gaming is available to you on property during your stay, and you can even play from your room!” According to his logic, mobile gambling is only safe in a room he can charge you for.

Wherever his true motives lie, Mr. Adelson’s argument continues to be whittled away by the fact that prohibition will not protect U.S. citizens. Internet gaming regulations in other countries, and those proposed here in the U.S., are significantly more restrictive than regulations on the very brick-and-mortar casinos that have contributed to his considerable wealth.  

As momentum is building in support of regulated online poker, it is clear states are becoming increasingly interested in considering the passage of their own legislation to license and regulate online poker. Any efforts to institute a nationwide ban of licensed and regulated online gambling will only serve to trample on the rights of states and deny consumers meaningful protections that can only be achieved through responsible state or federal regulation. 

As the National Conference of State Legislatures, a group that represents state legislatures and their staff, wrote in a letter to Congress earlier this year, the states largely oppose legislation aimed at reversing their right to pass legislation to license and regulate online gambling. In the letter, the Conference notes, “States have proven that they are effective regulators of the gambling industry and the proponents of this legislation fail to make a case that we have been negligent in our responsibilities to the industry and consumers. This attempt to enact a wholesale prohibition of online gambling with the Restoration of America’s Wire Act is merely a solution seeking a problem.”

Today, three states are safely and effectively regulating Internet poker and many more are learning from these successes and considering the significant benefits similar legislation will offer their state’s residents. The poker community stands ready to work with all those in favor of protecting consumers and creating a fair and level playing field for Americans to enjoy this historic pastime. Any misguided attempts to turn back the clock on regulated online poker will be in vain.

 

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