Nice to see some PR from a mainstream (well, at least not gambling) site. Check out this piece from aol on the status of intrastate poker legislation. Note the underlying current of disdain (perhaps I’m reading something into it that’s not there, but it’s fun to imagine) the article takes when discussing that the Federal government is dragging its heels on reform measure.
There are rumblings in the poker legal community that due to New Jersey’s toe dragging, Florida may beat it to the poll in the race to be the first state to legalize intrastate online poker. Florida Rep. Joseph Abruzzo has introduced legislation to be heard on March 8th that, if passed, could be effective by July 2011. Come on now! Don’t be greedy. Florida already has legal brick-and-mortar poker all over the state. Now online poker in one of the most populated states in the country? This just isn’t fair. Spread the wealth.
Here is a summary of federal and state gambling legislation prepared by two partners at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. For all you non-lawyers out there, Skadden is one of the preeminent law firms in the world, perhaps the best. Akin to what Ivey is to poker. Sadly, Skadden’s conclusion is that progress will be “incremental” and likely will occur on a state level before a nationwide resolution is reached.
Governor Christ has signed into law the bill allowing unlimited limit poker in Florida. Can anyone say road trip??? I-95 is beautiful this time of year. And now the final destination on that trip, Florida, will let you win more than just return gas money. Let us rejoice.
Strangely (perversely?), poker players have got to love that economic hard times have spawned a new-found love for poker and gambling among legislators. Florida has caught the need money fever and introduced legislation that would create a system for intrastate online in Florida. Players would need to be physically present in Florida to play. Hmm. No state income tax, legal online poker, live poker (with limits supposedly to rise soon), sun, golf, and college and pro sports teams. Why do I not live there?
Intra-state online poker: Europeans do it, and Americans may soon, too. But is it a good idea? Even if it improves the poker cause short-term improvement, will it help long-term?
Recently, American Poker Ventures (APV), the Florida sister organization of the lobby group Poker Voters of America (PVA), presented a report to the Florida government noting the projected annual tax revenue from legalizing intra-state poker in Florida. (A summary of the report can be found at http://www.egrmagazine.com/news/420282/legal-online-poker-could-raise-and3690m-a-year-florida-told.thtml.) Florida, one of the nation’s most financially sick states, is considering the proposal.
Poker players, especially those in Florida, are probably rejoicing. In the short-term intra-state poker would permit players in those states to play without fear of legal ramifications, or the inability to cash out winnings. In a state like Florida, the pool of players likely is large enough that games would be competitive. People in other states would not be affected much because the player pool on the mega sites would not be diminished materially. Perhaps the number of Floridians playing actually would increase, as some people may not play because they fear it is illegal. Legalization seems like a good thing.
But let’s play it out a bit. Next comes Illinois. Then New York. And Texas. All of a sudden a substantial portion of the U.S.-based online poker community is playing on intra-state sites. Not only do these games have a smaller player pool, but the mega sites now have lost a significant number of players. But you say, hey, I’m in such a state and now at least I can play legally, and other states can establish their own intra-state sites, so everyone can play.
And then in a few years every state has its own online poker fiefdom. It’s federalism in its purest form; true American democracy. Let’s rejoice.
Instead, I say we should cry. First, what I described just won’t happen. Not every state will operate an intra-state online poker site. Be it for moral reasons, political fears, or practical considerations (does Idaho or Wyoming really have enough online poker players to make operation of such a site feasible?). Certain people will be left out. Second, the presence of intra-state sites may diffuse the push to legalize poker nationally. There is a good chance that Congress would see little need to legislate nationally when the states are “handling” the situation. Additionally, the PPA may have a more difficult time lobbying in such an environment. Third, games will be less competitive as the player pool shrinks. One would not learn as many different playing styles. There would probably be fewer game types offered because there may not be enough people to support some of the less popular poker varieties. Finally, but certainly not least, eventually the money could run out. There are a finite number of online poker players in each state, even accounting for the likely influx of new players over time. As the sharks eat the fish, the money eventually would remain with a limited number of players. This is a concern for any poker site, but it becomes magnified as the player pool gets smaller.
Intra-state poker seems like a good idea for the poker community generally. It may very well be for certain players. But over the long-term, legalization in this manner may do more damage to poker than it does good. Of course, my argument is based on the theory that eventually we will be able to lobby the Congress to legalize poker nationally. If not, I’m moving to Florida.
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.