Thursday, December 13, 2012

Online poker

In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was pass and online gaming was effectively banned in the United States.  Online poker was included in that ban and supporters of online poker have been lobbying since 2006 to get the game legalized.  With the recent reelection of Barack Obama as President, poker lobbyists feel that they are in a good position to finally get the game legalized, but the question remains whether or not he truly supports online poker.

It is widely known that President Obama plays poker and even described himself as a good player.  He is known to have played in a weekly home game with Illinois lawmakers in Sprinfield.  The President's style was described by Illinois state Senator Terry Link as conservative.  The President often, "played the odds. He didn’t play for the inside straight."

While a known poker player, the President has by and large remained mum on the issue of online poker.  The closest that the Administration has come to making a formal statement was in response to a "We the People" petition on the White House's website back in May of this year.  In response to a petition regarding the White House's stance on online poker, the statement essentially left it to the states:

“…Online gambling on sporting events or contests violates federal law. The legality of other forms of online gambling is dependent upon the law of the states where the bettor or gambling business is located. It is left to each state to determine whether it wishes to permit such activity between its residents and an online poker business authorized by that state to accept such wagers…:

The question was raised yet again during the weeks leading up to the elections.  As part of the Republican party platform, the party openly spoke out against online gambling and called for a ban of all online gambling.  This includes online poker.  When the Democratic platform was released, no mention of online gambling was made.  Poker supporters were surprised and a bit dismayed that this issues was completely ignored.

In essence, the answer to whether or not President Obama supports online poker would seem to be maybe based on the response to the petition earlier this year.  If he is indeed a supporter of the game, he looks to be holding his cards close to the vest and calculating the odds of when the best time would be to come out with an official declaration of support.

The issue at the Congressional level is a bit more murky.  For years, there have been attempts to attach online poker legislation to bills.  Key poker supporters in Congress include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Texas Representative Joe Barton.  They have worked on poker legislation together and their first serious attempt was planned to be attached in Obama's tax cut plan back in 2010 but it failed to make it to the bill. 

Now, a bill drafted by Senator Reid and AZ Senator Jon Kyl is trying to make it's way through the lame duck session but is looking at a slow death.  Problems with the bill include that it would ban all forms of gambling online except for poker and horse racing.  States do not support this as it would harm them from being able to put lotteries online.  In addition, there is a constitutional question about a clause that would ban online poker companies that operated in the United States past 2006.  There are claims that the law is essentially a bill of attainder which bypasses due process laws, and therefore unconstitutional. 

At present, only two states have legalized online poker.  Those are Nevada and Connecticut, but neither have started offering games.  A federal online poker solution would provide a legal and regulated framework for online poker operators but it appears that support for this type of solution is still a ways off.

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