The Face of Online Poker’s New Self-Appointed Enemy: Sheldon Adelson

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Image: Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson has evidently appointed himself the new crusader against the legal U.S. online poker revolution. Even as New Jersey gets ready for the “soft” launch of its legal online poker operations – which by the way will not include online poker bigwig Poker Stars – the billionaire who owns Las Vegas Sands Corp (no conflict of interest there) has let leak to The Washington Post that he will be launching a major public campaign against legalizing online gambling.

The Washington Post piece revealed that Adelson will launch in January a Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. He aims to include in the group advocates for women, children, African-Americans, and Hispanics.

The bent of Adelson’s crusade will be that legal online poker would exploit the poor, and endanger kids. In a Forbes op-ed that ran last summer, Adelson called online gambling a “toxin” and a “plague” to society. What’s he call land-based gambling?

In addition to influencing the 2014 presidential election with this campaign, Adelson also aims to provoke congress to create a federal law banning online gambling before other states follow New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada’s leads.

While Adelson has not disclosed the budget for this crusade to prevent competition for his land-based casino activities, it’s worth noting that he spending nearly $100,000.000 on a recent major political campaign. Though, if we remember right, that didn’t go so well for him. So maybe it’s a good bet this campaign won’t either. Any online gambling site got a line on that yet?

New California Poker Bill Introduced Weeks Before Session’s End

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With just three weeks to go before the end of this session of the California state congress, new online poker legislation has just been introduced. The new bill will make online poker legal within the state – as it is now in Nevada and New Jersey, among others – but with the stipulation that only existing card clubs and Native American tribes already offering gambling in the state would be eligible to receive licenses.

This amended legislation came Monday, August 19 from state Senator Lou Correa, Democrat of Santa Ana. Not stated in the bill is what the cost of these licenses would be or how much of a site’s poker revenue needs to be shared with the state. No sponsors have yet come out in support of the amended bill.

Another attempt at legalizing some form of online gambling in the state is still facing the California state congress but has received no hearings as of yet. That legislation is a re-introduction of a bill originally stalled in 2012.

Poker Rooms accepting US Players

Meanwhile, the various Indian gaming commissions in the state, such as The Pechango Band of Luiseno Indians by Temecula, or the California Tribal Business Alliance have all been trying to craft their own online poker proposal.

The current session of the California state congress ends on September 13, and the Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced that he does not believe any online gambling bills will advance to the floor before that date.

New U.S. Online Poker Push Rumored

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Rumors are now circulating in the press that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is getting ready to once again roll out legislation making online poker legal in these United States.

This rumor remaining after a related rumor that Sheldon Adelson has suddenly done a 180-degree turn in his opposition to legal online poker in the U.S. has been debunked, at least according to Adelson’s spokesperson who says that he is still adamantly against it. Nevertheless there were several reputable news outlets reporting that Adelson had told Harry Reid that he would back new online gambling legislation if it restricted itself to online poker. Regardless of what Adelson’s spokesperson says, if the rumor about Reid’s forthcoming bill is true, we’ll find out the veracity of that other rumor in due time.

Meanwhile on a state level, news has just come out that Nevada and New Jersey – two of the states to have already passed online poker legislation for their states and begun the processes of implementation – are nearing completion of their pact to open the doors of each other’s online poker establishments to one another’s residents.

US Online Poker Sites

Reid’s rumored bill will effectively place a blanket-ban in the Federal Wire Act on all types of online gambling except for online poker.

Interestingly, this news comes out at the same time that an appellate court reversed a lower court’s ruling acquitting a player charged with illegal online gambling because he was playing Hold’em Poker, an established game of skill.

Latest U.S. Legal Online Poker Bill Viewed With Mixed Promise In Congress

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The latest salvo in the battle to pass legal online poker in the U.S. Congress comes in the form of a bill called the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013 sponsored by Representative Joe Barton of Texas (R). Differing from much of the previous attempts at online gambling legislation that have made their unsuccessful way through the chambers of Congress, this bill is aimed not at legalizing all forms of online gambling but online poker alone, the reason being that poker can be argued to be a game of skill whereas online casino gambling is generally considered to be comprised of games of chance.

Meanwhile Barton said in a conference call arranged by the poker lobby organization Poker Players Alliance that legal U.S. poker online is not far off. This in contrast to the sentiments of Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada (D) who, in spite of his support for both online gambling legislation in general and online poker legislation in particular says he believes the chances of legal U.S. poker passing this Congress are slim.

Barton’s bill will also leave alone that 2011 Wire Act interpretation that made it allowable for states to pass their own intrastate online gambling legislation and regulation if they so wished. States like Nevada and New Jersey have already done so and are taking steps to make online gambling for their residents an imminent reality. Barton believes once more states follow suit, federal legislation can’t be far behind.

Kansas Online Poker Ban Fails to Pass Senate

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The effort to legalize online poker intrastate in Kansas has won another small victory as a recent gambling expansion bill that included a stipulation banning online poker and other online gambling bill within the state has official died in a final state Senate vote of 24 – 15.

The victory was small, and a close call, however, as in a previous vote on just amendment demanding the online gambling ban itself passed with a more than 2 to 1 vote of 26 – 11. That means it’s not very likely that the online ban played a role in the overall bill failing to get a passing vote, rather that the primary focus of the bill, to attract an additional land-based casino to the state to set up shop in an unoccupied zone in the SE corner of the state where in-person gambling is permitted, was unpopular. Interestingly, that corner of the state is the only one of the four authorized gambling zones within the state not to have attracted a new land-based casino to set up shop there yet, no doubt in part because the area is so sparsely populated.

If the bill had passed, the amendment with the online gambling ban would have prevented all electronic video games and slots from the state’s brick and mortar gambling facilities before 2032. And it would have made online poker and other forms of online gambling a Class B, non-person misdemeanor, the penalty for which could be up to a $1,000 fine and 6 months in jail.

Washington Online Poker Bill Dead For Year

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Washington poker players were disappointed this week to learn that the latest bill aiming to legalize and regulate online poker has died in committee. The announcement came from the bill’s sponsor, Washington State Representative Paul Harris on Thursday, February 21, 2013 that the bill is officially dead for the duration of the year. He added, however, that he has been assured the bill will get a second hearing come the next session of the state congress.

The House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee held a hearing on the bill that lasted nearly an hour before the decision was made to kill the bill for this year’s session due to too many questions raised during the hearing.

The new legislation would soften the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to turn  recreational at-home online poker from a felongy into merely a class 3 civil infraction, the penalty for which, according to Washington law, is a maximum fine of $50 and something called “statutory assessments”.

When asked why they should take the trouble of changing the current law if no one in the state has yet been arrested for playing online poker, Harris told the committee that his ultimate aim is to legalize online poker in the state but that he thought decriminalization was a reasonable first step to take toward that larger goal.

Harris, who made a statement in his hearing that online poker could generate for state as much as $400 million, is still optimistic about this bill’s passage.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) is watching the developments on this story closely.

PPA Offers Suggestions On Latest U.S. Poker Bill

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The latest U.S. poker bill that will be considered by Congress at some point presumably in the next session is nicknamed the Reid-Kyl bill, after its coauthors Senators Harry Reid, a Democrat, and Jon Kyl, a Republican. Before that bill ever makes it before Congres, however, one of the biggest voices in Washington for the online poker player, the PPA (or Poker Player’s Alliance) has already written the two Senators a letter requesting modifications to the existing draft of their bill.

The November 2nd letter from Chairman Alfonse D’Amato of the PPA praised the two Senators as well as many aspects of the bill, but also listed 6 areas in which the bill can improve. One point is that states already offering commercial poker live through non-tribal gaming outlets should already be considered opted-in to the proposed federal program without having to take any other specific action to opt in.

In addition the PPA opposes the proposed 15-month waiting period operators would be subjected to before being allowed to deal cards online. The PPA also encouraged allowing international players to join the player pools the bill would open to U.S. players, thereby increasing revenue and player liquidity. The PPA letter also recommended a provision directing the IRS to come up with guidelines for poker players to file income taxes on money won playing online poker. The PPA also stands behind Indian tribes and state lotteries that want to get in on the action too, asserting that any federal poker bill cannot exclude those entities from receiving federal online poker licenses.

New York Federal Judge Rules Poker Game of Skill

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A New York federal judge ostensibly ending the long raging argument over whether poker is a game of luck or a game of skill. Of course the honest answer is Both, but the question remains of which influence is more significant in the game, as that determination will play a major role in how (and whether) the game of online poker may be legalized in this country. And the ruling is: it’s more skill than luck.

This is of course a huge boon to poker players everywhere as it vindicates an oft-ridiculed vocation as lacking in any intellectual or competitive value. The common definitions of gambling, explained the judge (and that used in formulating the long-hated UIGEA that effectively made online poker illegal in the United States) is that the predominance of the element of luck is what defines a game as “gambling”. Now that a federal judge has ruled the game of poker more skill than luck it no longer so easily falls under the caption of gambling and hence may soon no longer be restricted by the law.

The case involved a Staten Island man charged with running an illegal gambling operation out of his basement. But as that “operation” was actually a Texas Hold’em game Judge Jack Weinstein determined in his ruling on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012 that the man had not violated the federal anti-gambling law.

This is the first time a court ruling has examined poker’s status as a game of skill or luck.

Delaware Legalizes Online Poker

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Last Thursday, July 5, 2012, Delaware became the 1st U.S. state to enact legislation legalizing online poker and other forms on online casino gambling within its states borders. Nevada was actually the first state in the country to make moves toward legalizing online poker, but Delaware is now the first state to legalize online poker as part of a larger law legalizing all online casino gambling within the state, including games like blackjack and roulette.

The state’s Democratic Governor Jack Markell signed this bill into law. It’s called the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012 and it was passed by the state Senate just the morning previously, with a slim margin of victory.

Supporters of the bill, now law, felt that this move, which will allow full-service websites to offer real money online poker and other forms of online gambling, would help bolster the struggling land-based casino industry in the state, which has been dealing with tough competition from neighboring states, specifically Pennsylvania and Maryland. Opposition to the law argued that expanding gambling to the Internet would further permeate the social ills that have been associated with gambling into the culture. The governor countered opposition with the assertion that this move would help save or create a couple of thousand job.

All Delaware websites offering real money online poker or online casino gambling to state residents will be regulated through the state’s Lottery Office. As part of the law, the state will also now be able to sell lottery tickets online through a separate state-run site.

Wall Street Analysis Bodes Poorly For Legal Online Poker in the U.S.

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Last Friday, a Wall Street analyst stated that, based on current events, he saw little likelihood that the U.S. Congress would address the issue of legalizing online poker and other forms of online gambling in the United States until at least next year, 2013. If true, this is sobering news for poker activists and players alike in the U.S., as this year, 2012, is only just getting started.

But is it true? What is his analysis based on? According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s report on February 17, 2012, the analyst, one Chad Benyon of Macquarie Securities, says that if online poker were on the table in Washington, it would very likely have appeared as a bill tacked onto the recently passed extension of the payroll tax cut. But it was not. In fact, it was specifically addressed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in a press statement, when he stated that it definitely would not be attached in the bill presented for a vote (and passing) the following day.

This doesn’t rule out the possibilities that online poker could cross Congress’s desk some other way, including by a bill all its own, like the ones spearheaded by now retired Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank.

It also doesn’t rule out the possibilities of individual states legalizing and regulating online poker on their own, without the support of the federal government. Take Harry Reid’s own Nevada, for example, which just put the final touches on legislation to loosen the restrictions on online gaming in the state to minimum enforcement standards. That may go into effect as early as next month.