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Federal law to legalise online poker on the table in Congress

The steady march to full legalisation of online poker in the United States took another step, after Rep. Peter King introduced legislation on Thursday that would legalize online gambling.

The Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2013 would establish a federal regulatory regime for online gaming, and would follow in the footsteps of Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey in giving the green light to online poker.

Online gambling, which included online poker, was famously stamped out in the US in an event known as Black Friday – the day on April 15, 2011, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) shut down and seized the assets of the three biggest companies serving the US poker market — PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker (which also operated Ultimate Bet) — charging them with bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling.

The DOJ claimed that online gambling had been illegal in the US since the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, however, in late 2011, several states challenged the federal governments interpretation of the law.

Since then, some states have begun explicitly bringing online gambling, and online poker in particular, out of the dark, creating a legislative framework to allow their residents to play cash money games online.

King, a New York Congressman, said the new law would give further protection to the states.

“A common federal standard will ensure strong protections for consumers, protect against problem and underage gambling, and make it easier for businesses, players, lawmakers, and regulators to navigate and freely participate,” King said in a statement.

The bill would create the Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Treasury Department which would set criteria for state legislatures to license online gambling operators.

The legislation also includes an “opt-out” provision for any state or tribe “that does not wish to participate in the federal interstate system… and prohibit online gambling or to operate intrastate gaming within its borders as authorized under state or tribal law,” according to a statement from King’s office.

Even before Thursday’s bill was introduced to Congress, the tide was turning against those wishing to prohibit online gambling in the US.

In April, UltimatePoker.com became the first US site to offer secure online poker games since Black Friday, and in little over two weeks had already dealt its millionth hand – a remarkable achievement since it is only meant to be available to residents of Nevada.

Other states and other poker sites have followed, with Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton also planning to introduce online poker legislation by the end of next month, according to his spokesman Sean Brown.

However, the passage of the legislation is not assured. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl pursued federal Internet poker regulation last year but ultimately gave up after some state officials and lotteries resisted legislation that they felt could hinder states’ authority over gambling.

Still, lobbyists in the the US gambling community are more hopeful this time.

“We spent the last four years working very, very hard to get in a position to support such legislation if it was introduced,” said American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf. “So we’re now left in a situation where Kyl, who was very important in the process, has retired, and you’ve got a multitude of states starting to pass legislation. So we think the urgency is even more important now.”

According to The Hill, Reid and Sen. Dean Heller are working together again this year on an online poker bill, while lobbyists are also on the lookout to replace Kyl with another Republican senator from outside of Nevada.

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