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Boo!

It’s almost Halloween, and US politicians are trying to scare everyone with online gaming. Eek!

RAWA is always lurking around a dark corner. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act reared its head early in October when Congress sought a Speaker of the House to replace the resigning Rep. John Boehner. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah raised his hand with interest in the position, which caught the eyes of those in poker who know he is one of the members of Congress responsible for introducing the House version of RAWA. Since that time, however, Chaffetz was shoved out of the way in favor of Rep. Paul Ryan, who is going to become Speaker, by all accounts.

Even so, the New York Times reported this week that Ryan nominated Dave Hoppe as his planned Chief of Staff in anticipation of his new Speaker position. Hoppe will reportedly play a significant role in legislative matters. But sadly for RAWA opponents, the lobbyist counts Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) as one of his biggest clients.

Photo credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

More heat came in the form of the release of a letter to Attorneys General around the United States. The Poker Players Alliance got its hands on the letter penned by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and South Carolina AG Alan Wilson. It asks for support of HR 707 and SB 1668 (RAWA) in the form of signatures to go to the Congressional Judiciary Committee Leadership because “our states’ most vulnerable citizenry have suffered the consequences of expanded online gambling.”

The PPA responded with a pre-written letter than Americans could each send to his or her own Attorney General, in which points about states’ rights, regulation safety, and offshore gambling site dangers are mentioned. Many are hoping this effort from Koster and Wilson fizzles in the midst of presidential politics, debt ceiling arguments, and the Boehner-to-Ryan job swap.

Yet another mention of RAWA came from the Las Vegas Review-Journal over the past weekend Presidential hopeful and current Florida Senator Marco Rubio may not be married to the idea of including poker in RAWA. During a discussion with the publication’s editorial board, he acknowledged that poker is different from other online games due to its skill element. “That’s the one area that distinguishes it a little bit,” he said. His communications director confirmed that Rubio sees poker differently than online gaming, but Sheldon Adelson’s public relations representative said that no carve-out for poker is being recognized at this time.

It should be noted that Sheldon Adelson has yet to endorse or financially support a Republican candidate in the Presidential race yet, and Rubio is one who wants – and possibly needs – that boost.

Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images

The month just ended with yet another push, this time in the form of a media advisory released to the press earlier this week regarding a press conference to be held regarding Internet gambling. According to Online Poker Report, the notice mentioned that the press conference would feature speakers like Chaffetz and former Rep. J.C. Watts, along with members of CSIG, at the Capitol Hill Club. They would “talk about the importance of protecting the right of families to keep online casinos out of their homes and off their children’s mobile devices.”

The conference seems to have happened, but no major media outlet seemed to cover or write about it by the end of the business day. The PPA did release its own statement via a Twitter mention.

It’s unclear as to why RAWA is getting so much play at this time. There could always be an attempt to sneak RAWA on as an attachment to must-pass legislation in the months leading up to the holidays, and it’s likely that the PPA is monitoring the situation for that possibility. It is obvious that Adelson is using RAWA as a string to control the puppets that want the billionaire’s money, but it is unclear if any politician will actually push hard enough to ban online gambling in the United States, especially against the wishes of so many Republicans who stand staunchly for states’ rights and against RAWA.

*****

Pennsylvania is becoming a tease… and not much more.

Last month, I mentioned that little was going on with Pennsylvania despite State Rep. John Payne’s push for his bill to regulate online gambling.

And then, the winds of October shifted everything. With the state still unable to pass a budget and fill in quite a few revenue gaps, Payne kept pushing and others began to look more seriously at online gambling as one of the possible solutions. By the middle of the month, Pennsylvania media began reporting that more lawmakers were willing to consider expanding gambling in the state. Governor Tom Wolf was open to discussions, and House Majority Leader Dave Reed put the topic on his list of priorities.

We spoke at length to the PPA’s new Pennsylvania State Director, Judah Rosenstein, about the outlook for online poker and gambling in the state, and he was mostly positive about the possibilities. “I truly believe we will see online poker/gambling within the next year,” he concluded.

At the same time, however, Adelson reared his head in Pennsylvania as CSIG began running anti-online gambling ads. This video was the epitome of fear-mongering:

The roller coaster was in full swing by that time. A vote was scheduled for October 21 in the House Gaming Oversight Committee to discuss online gaming. With Payne serving as the chairman of that particular committee, hopes were raised for progress.

Then the hearing was cancelled.

Then it was rescheduled.

And then that tentative rescheduling was cancelled.

According to Payne and multiple sources, the issue is still very much alive. And as mentioned by Steve Ruddock, the elimination of a hearing could mean that online gambling is being seriously considered and not just pawned off to a relatively meaningless hearing.

Hope is a live in Pennsylvania.

*****

The best news of October came from New Jersey. As the month began, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement announced that PokerStars’ parent company, Amaya, had been approved for servicing the online gambling market.

It was a long fight for PokerStars to reenter the US market after having left under dark circumstances on Black Friday in 2011. The DGE’s investigation was a long and arduous one, as evidenced in the lengthy report released after the approval. They collected more than 45,000 pages of documents, conducted 71 sworn interviews, and traveled around the world in order to gather every piece of information possible before making a decision. In the end, approval was granted pending the dismissal of four unnamed employees of Amaya and its subsidiaries.

It will likely be December 2015 or January 2016 before PokerStars officially launches in New Jersey, which should be followed in short order by Full Tilt’s online casino games. The impact on the market is the subject of wide-ranging speculation at this point, but the move is a celebrated one nonetheless.

And for the state of New Jersey, any forward movement is good. While the online casino business in the state is maintaining a steady revenue stream of approximately $10 million per month, online poker is suffering. The September numbers released by the DGE showed a 21% decrease in online poker revenue from September 2014, with the 2015 number coming in at just $1.7 million. It was the lowest month on record for online poker.

*****

As the fall months wear on, United States online poker players look toward Pennsylvania to join the market, PokerStars to bring life to New Jersey’s market, and RAWA to disappear as fast as a child’s candy on the day after Halloween.

 

 

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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