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Online Poker Legislation Slowly Developing at State Level

Since the enactment of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, United States residents have been missing a safe, regulated environment to play online poker.  After the departure of Party Poker in 2006, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the Cereus Network dominated the online poker market in the United States.  By circumventing the UIGEA laws, the 3 major networks provided access to a rapidly growing global pool, effective cash out methods like eChecks, and innovative games such as Rush Poker.  For nearly five years, most players ignored issues regarding UIGEA and legislative efforts such as the Barney Frank Bill were divisive and complacent.

Since April 15, 2011, the regulation of online poker in the United States has been at the forefront of many poker players’ minds.  US players have found that their freedom and ability to play online poker has been severely inhibited by the departure of the major networks and the indictments against payment processors.  Though the Merge Network and offer services to US customers, poker players realize that legislation is the only solution to providing a safe, comfortable environment for online gambling.

 United States legislative efforts have been fought on two fronts: State and Federal Level.  In the immediate aftermath of Black Friday, players and PPA focused their attention on the federal level as Harry Reid of Nevada and Joe Barton of Texas introduced bills for the regulation of online poker. However, federal regulation efforts quickly met opposition from the states, anti-gambling Congressman, and casino operators such as the Indian tribes.  Recently, the National Conference of States Legislatures issued a statement that online poker legislation should be regulated at the state level.  Furthermore, analysts and industry experts have confirmed that the failure to attach legislation to the payroll tax bill further delays regulation efforts until 2013. 

With federal regulation meeting strong opposition, US players have focused their attention to the state level legislation.  Nevada became the first state to enact online poker legislation in December of 2011.  Many operators such as Playtech and Bwin.Party have made efforts to partner with major land based casino operators such the Wynn.  Nevada Gaming Officials hope to offer licenses as early as this summer and provide online poker in the fall.

In New Jersey, Sen. Lesniak has led the efforts for intrastate online gambling with a bill that passed the Senate committee by wide majority.  The bill would allow Atlantic City casino operators to offer online equivalents of casino offerings to the residents of New Jersey.  Furthermore, the iGaming bill would allow New Jersey operators to take bets from customers in other states and countries, given that the bets do not violate any state or federal law. Sen. Lesniak hopes that online gaming will be offered in early fall of 2012.

In California, State Senators are preparing a compromise bill that would appease the concerns of the land based gambling operators.   Tribal Casinos, card rooms, and horse tracks have voiced displeasure with the eligibility requirements and fees for online gaming licensing.  Though the current bill, SB1463, has sufficient political support, state senators are working hard to appease potential operators.

Though state-level efforts have been bright in these three states, there have been many obstacles to creating a cohesive, connected network for online gaming in the United States.  In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert signed bill HB108 that made online poker illegal in the state.  Furthermore, the state of Utah sent a letter to Congress asking to halt federal legislation.  Online poker bills were voted down by legislatures in Iowa, Mississippi, and Hawaii. 

With the upcoming election and the constant political struggle, United States players will undoubtedly have to wait to play online poker in a safe, regulated environment.  Despite the good news from New Jersey and Nevada, online poker regulation is in the infant stages as the government and land based casinos attempt to figure out the enigma and potential goldmine that is online poker. 

However, even with regulation in certain states, poker players have many concerns regarding the seemingly inevitable legislation of online poker.   One major issue concerning many players is the idea of an interstate online poker network.  Given the autonomy of each state and the differing regulations, the formation of a compact offering interstate and potentially international online poker network will be a major obstacle to fight after the regulation of poker in more states. 

With the one year anniversary of Black Friday, US players are still keeping hope alive to finally play poker in the comforts of their own home.  Though many obstacles will arise with more states considering legislation, players hope that lobbyists, poker organizations, and politicians will finally come to an agreement on a regulated interstate poker network.  

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