Does Legalized Internet Gambling Stand a Chance?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Lynn "Queen of Hearts" ParisLynn “Queen of Hearts” Paris

It has never failed to amaze me that more states, in fact all states, don’t want to take advantage of the huge amount of extra revenue generated by online gambling, especially poker. I would have thought by now we’d catch up to the rest of the world, yet more than three years have gone by with only Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware successfully passing legislation, and reaping the benefits, of making online poker legal.

Online PokerAfter more than three years, why does there suddenly seem to be more action in more states to get similar legislation passed? There’s California, of course, which has tried and failed on several occasions to get internet poker legalized. Until they can get the politicians, card rooms, horse racing crowd and the Indian tribes that currently have the monopoly on gambling to come together and make it happen, the latest bill from online gambling advocate, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, will probably die on the vine. That sure leaves a whole lot of money on the table that the union’s largest state could definitely make use of.

New York has managed to get two bills to the committee stage, which, if combined into one actionable and acceptable-to-all bill, might just have a chance of being signed by Governor Cuomo. Pennsylvania is also eager to have online casino gambling, but still needs to pass the necessary regulations. Their HB 392 would authorize full online casino gaming but also would open daily fantasy sports in the state; it has lots of support but hasn’t passed anything yet.

A couple of new-to-the-game states have also shown a lot of interest recently. Michigan has a bill, SB 203, to legalize online poker that’s also open to including other forms of online gambling activity. The voters of Michigan seem to be behind its passage, but there are still a bunch of hurdles to go through. And finally, a bill in Hawaii, SB 677, has been introduced to open “internet gaming” in the state, Interesting because Hawaii actually has laws on the books preventing live gambling.

As some might imagine, the desire on the part of these states and perhaps others to get legislation passed quickly has grown considerably since the current administration took office. While no one can predict what the president thinks about online poker (he seemed to be for it five years ago, but we all know that means nothing today), we CAN predict where the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, stands on the subject. During his confirmation hearings he was asked directly what his thoughts were on the legality of online gaming by famously anti-gaming Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been among those who would love to re-institute the Federal Wire Act of 1961 (passed to deal with racketeering). Sessions testified that he already thought it wasn’t legal for online gambling to be conducted and would look into it further once he was heading the Department of Justice. Don’t you just love these states’ rights republicans?

Keep in mind that in 2011, it was the Department of Justice that announced its belief that the 1961 Wire Act applied only to sports betting, thereby opening the door for states to legalize intrastate non-sport online gambling, such as lottery ticket sales and Internet poker.

Bottom line is that we really have no idea which way this will go, considering the extreme views of certain leading republicans who continue to want to restore the federal Wire Act. Should that happen, states would be unable to circumvent federal law to pass their own internet gambling laws. Although that seems highly unlikely, the uncertainty about it has hastened the efforts of at least a few more states to pass a bill, under the assumption that they would be grandfathered if they had already legalized online poker.

We’ll keep you updated as things progress.

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