New York Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) is concerned that under-aged and gambling-addicted New Yorkers will become victims of companies that use “virtual private networks” (VPNs) to bypass age and location requirements and allow players to gamble illegally.
Kennedy has called on the New York State Gaming Commission to begin investigations to prevent his constituents from using such VPNs. He believes that legislation passed in neighboring New Jersey will permit gamblers in his home state to align themselves with illegal companies and gamble from within New York while their true location is masked and relayed as being in New Jersey.
“The technology is very simple and could easily be manipulated to prey on those with gambling addiction across the country – often charging over-the-top fees,” Kennedy said.
Following the virtual shutdown of online poker in the U.S. as a result of the Black Friday indictments that stopped the top three poker rooms of PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker from operating in the American market, the use of VPNs proliferated. U.S. players who had been playing online poker professionally for years were faced with a dilemma.
The options were to either: a) relocate to another country and continue playing online at major poker rooms and networks; b) play at unregulated U.S.-friendly sites that had minimal player liquidity with extremely slow cashouts and no assurances that funds were safe; c) continue playing from the U.S. through the use of an illegal VPN; or d) find a new line of work.
Many pros are known to have chosen the first option and moved to sunny locales such as Mexico and Costa Rica. Still others selected option ‘b’ and are playing at Merge and the Revolution Network, never knowing if the feds will one day shut the network down and often waiting months to receive a cashout. Some players have used the sudden time on their hands to find a new area of expertise in which to make a living and have transited away from playing poker professionally as in option ‘d.’ And those players who didn’t want to leave home or take chances on unregulated sites or make a living in some other fashion have chosen the least talked about option, which is ‘c.’
It’s not widely talked or written about because its illegal. But players in the U.S. are playing at major poker rooms through the use of VPNs right now. For those unaware, a VPN allows users to mask their geographic location by extending a private network across a public network. For a better description, allow me to borrow from Wikipedia, which states that a virtual private network “enables a host computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if they were an integral part of the private network with all the functionality, security and management policies of the private network. This is done by establishing a virtual point-to-point connection through the use of dedicated connections, encryption, or a combination of the two.”
Sen. Kennedy is obviously aware of the ease in which players in his state of New York can access online gambling sites through the use of VPNs. He has been an outspoken advocate on preventing minors and those who cannot control themselves from the perils of gambling addiction. And he is urging his state gaming commission to properly investigate and regulate online gambling so that those who should not be gambling do not.
Safeguards and protections for citizens who are underage or problem gamblers are all well and good and necessary. But there are countless other online poker players in his home state of New York and most likely throughout the entire country who are of legal age and not problem gamblers who continue to make a living in their chosen profession by using VPNs. Knowing that people will find a way to gamble or play poker if they have a mind to do so, wouldn’t it make more sense to legalize online poker at the federal level so the use of VPNs would be moot? If the time spent attempting to eradicate the use of VPNs would be used to gain federal support for online poker, the U.S. would be much better off.