2012: THE YEAR US POKER GETS BACK ONLINE?


it seems as though online poker itself has been drawing dead ever since Black Friday



Anyone who’s ever played a hand of poker knows that there’s an element of momentum to the game: sometimes you can endure a lengthy cold deck of cards while other times you can go on a hot streak. Indeed, it seems as though online poker itself has been drawing dead ever since Black Friday. From the time the Department of Justice essentially shut down US online poker, there’s been little good news for American fans of the game to celebrate. Recent developments in the private sector and in various legislative bodies indicate, however, that the tide is about to turn in favour of legalising online poker in the United States, possibly as early as 2012.

Federal legislation

In all likelihood, as far as federal legislation is concerned, the next calendar year will just bring more of the same; case in point, the recent hearings on Capitol Hill prior to Thanksgiving. Both houses of Congress listened to testimony from individuals such as PPA Chairman Alfonse D’Amato and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass). No observable progress was made, however, with much of the testimony echoing what was debated in previous Congressional hearings on the matter.

The fact is that despite the positive attitudes and earnest efforts of online gaming advocates, they’re just not making much headway in their attempts to sway federal lawmakers in their favour. As with most traditionally contentious issues in the US, state governments seem to be far more nimble than their federal counterpart in terms of their ability to move forward and legislate one way or another.

State legislation

Nothing in the UIGEA specifically prohibits individual states from offering online gaming within their respective jurisdictions. Thus, while lacking the full effect of making online poker available to every American citizen, states at least have the power to offer it to their own residents (or specifically outlaw it, as with Washington State).

Whereas New Jersey was not too long ago just one signature away from being the first state to do this, Governor Chris Christie had other ideas. Lobbyists and lawmakers in other states, such as Iowa, Florida and California, have also spearheaded efforts to legalise intrastate online poker, but these too have not yet borne any fruit. Nevada, on the other had, seems headed in the right direction.

Nevada: America’s online poker frontier

The largest gaming hub in the US, Nevada, is the frontrunner to blaze the trail and legalise online poker for its residents. The state’s Gaming Control Board will begin accepting applications from parties seeking licences to run intrastate online poker sites in February 2012.

With a population of just under three million people, the potential pool of online poker players in Nevada alone is but a fraction of what it was nationwide in the halcyon pre-Black Friday days. American Gaming Association CEO, Frank Fahrenkopf, cites this issue of liquidity as being “the key to online poker” with a necessity of each state being able “to provide the player pool necessary to make it worthwhile”. Nonetheless, the ability to finally play online poker legally would undoubtedly lure many American fans of the game to pack up and move to the Silver State, likely generating a mini poker boom at the very least.

Online poker market share: to whom?

Regardless of its size, a potential new, wide-open legal market for online poker in the US has operators licking their chops and chomping at the proverbial bit. All indicators point towards Caesars Entertainment and the joint MGM/Boyd Gaming contingent having a ‘fast track advantage’ towards securing online poker licences, as they already possess land-based Nevada gaming licences.

Caesars intends to use 888 software and WSOP branding to create a new one-of-a-kind online poker site while MGM/Boyd Gaming, for its part, has latched itself on to the widely successful Trump brand name.

Other big names positioning themselves for eventual legalisation, like bwin.party and even Zynga, are also likely to see some measure of success assuming they play their cards right.

Interestingly, the fate of Poker Stars remains largely uncertain. While they’ll still be able to claim the moniker of ‘the world’s largest poker site’ and have plenty going for them in the international arena, any potential success in US markets hinges on their ability to actually obtain gaming licences. One has to wonder how willing state gaming commissions would be to grant PokerStars a licence, given the company’s DOJ-documented history of illegal US operations.

Conclusion

With 2012 being an election year in the United States, politicians will be eager to show their constituents positive numbers. The windfall benefits of legalising online poker, such as job opportunities and new tax income to help prop up budgets, have far more impact on a state rather than federal level.

Nevada politicians have realised that such windfalls can provide invaluable currency in these tough economic times and are, thus, prepared to shuffle up and deal poker online. It is this writer’s hope that other state legislators follow suit.
 
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