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As 2015 winds down, many in the poker community may feel discouraged that another year passed without another American state regulating online poker. But according to Rich “The Engineer” Muny of the Poker Players Alliance, there is no reason to despair.

Muny serves as the Vice President of Player Relations for the PPA and has been fighting for the rights of poker players in the United States since 2006 when Congress passed the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act). He officially took on the VP role at the PPA in 2011, and his years as a professional poker player combined that passion with an advocacy position to serve the community. His efforts as a liaison between poker players and the PPA are tireless, as is evidenced by his social media presence.

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We spoke to Muny specifically about the Pennsylvania online gambling bill, as well as the potential of other states to legalize and regulate online poker in 2016. And, of course, we also touched on the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) and the possibility of any sort of federal legislation for or against online poker.

What exactly is the status of HB 649 in Pennsylvania as of today?

Obviously the budget discussions have involved a lot of back-and-forth. HB 649 is in that mix, where we are hopeful that it will be back up for discussion early ’16.

Does the PPA have any objections to the numerous amendments now attached to the bill?

We are concerned about any amendments, such as the VGT (video gaming terminals) amendment, that could erode support for the bill. The increased licensing fee is interesting, as it increases likelihood of passage but could possibly impact players in the form of higher rakes. This is the process and PPA is fully engaged in it.

Would you venture a prediction as to what will happen before the end of 2015?

Negotiations will certainly continue, with our focus on getting HB 649 back into discussion next month or the month after.

As the bill stands, would it welcome a company like PokerStars to apply for a license?

It does not have any provisions that would arbitrarily keep the regulators from determining suitability of any potential providers. We think it’s best to keep politics out of such decisions, keeping them at the regulatory level.

If online poker is legalized in PA, what is your best guess for a timeline in 2016 regarding licenses and launches?

They wish to move pretty fast, but we have seen in the other three states with online poker just how long the process can take. I think bid submissions will be relatively quick, with suitability reviews, software verification, and the rest being less so. PPA will lend its expertise to the state in any way we can to help them with this process.

Moving beyond Pennsylvania… In what other states is the PPA’s attention focused?

California is the main focus beyond PA, with New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and other states appearing on our radar as well. As you and your readers may imagine, PPA has limited resources, so we have to concentrate on specific states. Getting these states moving forward helps the rest of the states. We see it as a domino effect.

For example, I live in Kentucky. We in Kentucky are better off getting other states moving and demonstrating a strong track record than we are dumping a lot of lobbying money here right now. It’s better to farm fertile fields, and we seek to make all fifty states fertile for poker.

Do you have any predictions for states likely to join the regulated US online poker industry in 2016?

California is the next best bet. The legislature is ready to move forward. It’s only infighting among potential providers stopping them from moving. And, of course, we’ll keep the pressure on states like those I mentioned prior while cultivating the next batch of states that may move forward, like Connecticut, Oregon, and states like those.

The PPA released a statement after last week’s RAWA hearing, but what have you heard from insiders since then about RAWA?

Everything we have heard is super-positive. The hearing was a total bust for anti-poker Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). He damaged his cause greatly and would have been better off not holding the hearing.

Do you believe RAWA still has momentum?

This hearing harmed RAWA, but its backers, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson, won’t give up. They pledged to “spend whatever it takes” to ban online poker. With Adelson’s recent purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, we see just how much power he can wield, so we’ll never take this threat lightly.

Does Rep. Joe Barton’s federal online poker legalization bill have any traction whatsoever? Or will there be another effort to legalize online poker on the federal level in 2016?

Rep. Barton is an outstanding ally for poker. His bill helps show lawmakers who believe some federal oversight is needed the right way to go. I believe it has helped keep some lawmakers off RAWA, in fact. That being said, the path for poker is clearly with the states. Once a few more come on board, we could actually see increased momentum for the Barton bill.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.

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