Is a Federal Online Poker Bill in the Cards in 2014?

adelsonNot too long ago myself and the rest of the poker pundits were busy writing off the chances of a federal online poker bill, and with the launch of online gambling in New Jersey all eyes were turned toward efforts at the state level. But recent developments have reignited the possibility for a federal online poker bill, and here is why.

Step by Step and State by State

The current model in the US iGaming industry is for individual states to create their own laws and regulations, setup their own online gambling industry within their borders and accessible only to people located in the state, and potentially partner up for interstate online gambling down the road.

Sure, it’s working (see: Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey) but the process has been slow, cumbersome, and not without its issues. Furthermore, as more and more states enter the fray it could turn into a logistical nightmare for online gambling providers who could find themselves applying for perhaps dozens of different licenses, operating under varied regulations, and having to set up shop inside multiple states’ borders.

The state by state approach has definitely gotten the ball rolling, but it seems an impractical way to create a thriving online gambling industry. Still, the general consensus is that a federal online poker bill is somewhere between extremely unlikely and DOA, so the state by state approach is all we have right now… Or is it?

Could we really see a Federal online gambling bill in 2014?

Monday’s announcement by the American Gaming Association (AGA) that they have hired the Messina Group (led by President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina) to lead a grassroots campaign, as well as appointing several people to new, prominent positions within the AGA could be interpreted as the AGA and its backers preparing for a serious push for federal online gambling.

Add to this a Forbes article by Nathan Vardi that describes an impending battle between Sheldon Adelson and three other men of power, George Soros, John Paulson, and Leon Cooperman over online gambling, and it would seem that something is definitely afoot. According to the Forbes article, Soros, Paulson, and Cooperman are all shareholders in Caesars Acquisition Company, what Vardi calls a spinoff of Caesars Entertainment and one that owns a share in Caesars online gambling products.

There is also the trend where we have seen many states pull back on the reins when it comes to online gambling legislation.

Looking at these items singularly doesn’t seem like a very big deal, but stepping back and looking at all of the machinations going on in the US iGaming market you start to see the entire chess board and not just the individual pieces– Is a serious push at the federal level in the works?

One possibility that has come to mind is that an online poker bill could be introduced during the upcoming lame duck congress that will be upon us after the mid-term elections this November –where many prominent representatives and senators will be casting their final votes before sailing off into the legislative sunset.

In my opinion this would be the perfect time for a vote on online gambling. Without the threat of being primaried or losing their seat over a controversial vote (and anything to do with gambling is the definition of a controversial vote in DC) outgoing congressmen, congresswomen, and senators will be free to do as they please, without worrying about getting a bad grade from Focus on the Family or Freedom Works.

If the chips fall the right way, we could very well see some version of the Barton Bill, or even something far more comprehensive if it comes out of the Senate first.

The times they are a changing…

You might be thinking I’m getting ahead of myself, or reading too far between the lines; that my rambling possibilities are little more than wishful thinking, but stranger things have happened, and they tend to happen very quickly when it comes to online gambling.

Take for example, the DOJ’s reinterpretation of the Wire Act, or New Jersey’s nine-month start to finish launch of online gambling.

Or, consider that just a few months ago the poker world was responding to Sheldon Adelson’s attacks on online poker by circling the wagons, grabbing torches and pitchforks, hopping on social media to express outrage, and writing critical editorials defending everything that is good and wholesome about the game of poker. But just a couple months and one face-plant before Congress later, similar attacks on online gambling are not being met with scathing, defensive editorials and calls to arms, but with laughter and ridicule.

While nothing is impossible, and Sheldon Adelson certainly has the money to make the impossible possible, the online gambling train has already left the station, and the question isn’t whether it can be stopped, the question is; how will the US iGaming industry pan out in the coming years. If the mega-corporations now controlling the industry (and publicly joining the fight) have their druthers I would suspect they would unanimously vote for federal legislation over the current state by state plan.



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