Poker players love to disagree. But one topic on which we all agree is that poker, even when the house profits, should be legal. Yet, even in this area of agreement, there appears to be an important difference in how, or more accurately, where, we attempt to accomplish that goal.
Much of the effort to legalize poker is focused at the federal level. This includes the recent legislation introduced by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), and others, and the efforts taken and support given by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The weight toward a federal-directed approach likely is warranted given the imminent threat of the UIGEA, the broad-reaching effect federal laws have on states, and the volume of money at stake with online poker. But a focus on federal action should not be at the expense of state action. More needs to be done on a state-by-state basis to legalize poker, particularly the live variant. After all, legalizing poker in each state would not only be a boon to the daily lives of poker players but would symbiotically aid the movement to legalize poker federally.
Similar to what is being done at the federal level, lobbies could be established – with or without PPA aid or affiliation – to petition states to amend their laws. Mass letter-writing campaigns could be undertaken to voice support to state representatives. Advertisements depicting the financial benefits of poker revenue (and even perhaps the hypocrisy of differentiating between lotteries and horse racing on the one hand and poker on the other) could be launched. These tactics actually might prove more successful on the state level than they have at the federal level given the acute revenue shortages many states are experiencing and that fewer people (and, at least theoretically, a less diverse group of people) need to be convinced of their merit.
Some states, to varying degrees, permit poker even when the house profits. California, Washington, and Florida are examples. However, little exists akin to the coordinated federal attack launched by the PPA. There is hope that at least certain states may be willing to listen to such a campaign.
A ballot question has been filed in Massachusetts that would legalize Internet poker in that state with winnings being taxed. Its inclusion on the ballot awaits approval by the state Attorney General and then needs 66,000 signatures. Providing hope that it may succeed, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo each support in varying degrees some version of expanded gambling, potentially including poker.
Pennsylvania also may be fertile ground. The Pennsylvania legislature is considering legalizing table games. Governor Ed Rendell already publicly supports legalizing video poker with the revenue being used for college education or other state needs.
Other states considering legalization of table games, including poker, are New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Even Kentucky, despite its unsuccessful attempt to shutter Internet poker sites, is considering expanding electronic gaming at its racetracks. New York also has intimated an interest in permitting electronic table games.
Legalization of state poker may have tangential benefits as well. For example, the federal prosecution of Douglas Rennick by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York for money laundering, bank fraud, and illegal gambling offenses is based, in part, on New York penal law. The U.S. Attorney’s case does not even reference the UIGEA. If New York penal law is altered as a result of lobbying efforts, the legal basis on which the Federal Government pursues certain actions could be invalidated, though granted it would not likely affect actions already commenced. And, if multiple states legalize poker, it may have a persuasive affect on the U.S. Congress’ stance on the UIGEA and poker-related laws. It could not hurt.
Resources being used currently to legalize poker on the federal level should not be shifted to a state level use. Rather, the pie of resources needs to be expanded, with those new resources (time, money, expertise, etc…) directed at state governments in a coordinated approach. People should become involved at a grassroots level to organize within their states to provide a coordinated and unified lobby. Perhaps existing lobbies and organizations, or even social networking sites such as Facebook, could be of assistance. It will take time, and may not succeed, but the importance of uniting to legalize the individual game we love is something on which all poker players can agree.