Playing the Gain GameArguments against regulating online poker in the US seem to be as numerous as they are flimsy. But if the switch gets flipped back on, will those backers dish out the humble pie? Richard Marcus cooks up some ideas.
By now, most of you have either heard or read about the heated debates inside the chambers of United States Congress on the subject of regulating online gambling. Despite the fact that online poker is legal in most places that Gambling Online Magazine circulates, legalisation and regulation of it in the US is very important to you if you’re a player because it would have a giant positive effect on online poker within the UK and Europe. Why? Simply because it has been estimated that the Unites States alone represents as much as 85 percent of a potential legal worldwide online gambling market.
This means that an eventual legal participation of the US player base would make online gaming, especially online poker, exponentially better from a UK or European player point of view. Everything from the amount of online poker players to the number of available poker games at each limit at any given time would increase dramatically. There would also be new online poker sites and improvements to existing ones, the result of which would be increased competition leading to better quality online poker rooms.
So, besides the obvious morality and criminal issues being reviewed by US Congress, how will the recent proliferation of online poker cheating scandals affect American lawmakers wrestling with proposals to legalise online gambling, or at least regulate it in some way? Will the recent super-scandals at UltimateBet and Absolute Poker simply serve to darken legislators’ views and push regulation farther and father away? Or are there some underlying, positive factors that might convince the legislative-naysayers to finally vote “yes”?
If you’re not familiar with the workings of these scams, the facts are that key employees, and in some instances owners, employed sophisticated software enabling them to read the hole cards of people playing on the sites. Then by setting up accounts on their own sites to play in the games, these dishonest insiders systematically and continually cheated legitimate online poker players out of tens of millions of dollars. Many people believe that these terrible black eyes suffered by the online poker industry are enough to keep a US ban on it for years to come, that legislators will continue to reject any legitimate reasons for allowing Americans to gamble legally online. Is this true?
Well, thanks to some key legislators in the US government, most notably the popular and controversial representative Barney Frank and to some very effective pro-online gambling initiatives by numerous influential lawyers, and, maybe above all, to the undying support and action of the online poker lobby group, Poker Players Alliance, the negative outlook will not continue dominating. The reality of the issue is that the lobby supporting US regulation of online gaming is now growing every month.
So, with legalisation and regulation in the balance, how will the US legislature really look at cheating, and how will they ultimately consider it when it’s time to cast ballots? The overall consensus on Capitol Hill—expressed in Frank’s and other American congressmen’s words—is that the cheating which has happened in the online poker industry is nothing foreign to any other industry, either online or off. Virtually every online industry, everything from social networking to buying books to auctioning property to finding employment has been hit with this scam or that one. It may seem to us, however, that online poker scams are getting more international press coverage with ensuing public outrage than other online scandals, but this is not true. It just seems that way because we are online poker players and tend to pay more attention to what’s going on with online poker than we do to, say, a scam at e-Bay, which would certainly get as much press as the UltimateBet online poker scam did.
One outcome of the online poker scams that should have a positive affect on possible regulation is the very fact that they were exposed in the first place and their perpetrators identified. These facts certainly bolster the credibility of those who’d say about cheating online, “This goes to show that people who cheat the system will be caught, and that across the spectrum of online poker forums and blogs is a dedicated community of players determined to police the sites and keep them as cheat- and scam-free as any other industry online, if not more.” Detractors would reply that the evidence of effective anti-cheat policing is overstated and that we never hear about the many online scams that occur underneath the radar. Although there have surely been many online poker scams and cheating incidents that have come and gone without detection, it’s my belief that the big ones such as UltimateBet that really threaten the integrity of the industry will in the future be identified as quickly, if not quicker, than scams hitting other online industry websites involving the exchange of money and merchandise by those using them.
The bottom line is that the cheating factor will not have a negative effect on the eventual legislative choice between regulation and continued illegality. Notice I am not saying it will have an overall positive effect either. Simply, I believe that the evolution of online gambling in the Unites States, despite the cheating, will follow that of brick-and-mortar gambling in the country’s history. Don’t forget that less than 80 years ago all forms of casino gambling were strictly illegal in the entire United States. Then in certain jurisdictions it became legal with restrictions, and then the restrictions were reduced while the legal-casino jurisdictions increased—to the point where today some form of legalised gambling casinos exist in a majority of US states.
And another push in favour of the eventual regulation of online poker is a definition and whether or not it’s now illegal in the first place. Part of the problem is that some legislators will tell you online poker is strictly illegal by federal law while others would say it is very unclear and that it is a state-by-state issue. Then there is the argument, strongly backed by the Poker Players Alliance, that since poker is a game of skill and not chance, it could never be considered gambling in the first place and therefore should have never been banned.
Whatever the case, one thing for sure is that once online gambling is declared legal or regulated by the US Congress—there won’t be much doubt as to whether or not it is really legal or regulated.