Elections deal blows to poker, gaming chances

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With the river card turned and the betting concluded, it’s time to see the cards and call the winners for the 2010 election cycle. Bottom line: Most states and the federal government will tack significantly to the right, which won’t bode well for most gaming interests.

The biggest loser of the election cycle has to be Internet poker players. With the loss of a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and an increase of conservatives in the U.S. Senate, the likelihood of any federal legislation on Internet poker is shelved indefinitely. Rep. Barney Frank is gone from leadership and will be at best a ranking minority member. With no significant advocate in the Senate, Internet poker advocates will need to shift their focus to the state capitals if they have any hope of legalizing Internet poker in the short term.

As the focus shifts to the states, the overwhelming tide of red that swept Republicans back in control of the House also saw governors’ mansions overwhelmingly go Republican. Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming are back in Republican control, having previously been occupied by independents or Democrats. This will definitely affect gaming expansion efforts in these states.

Two states in particular that were being watch by the industry were Texas and Alabama, where new Republican governors and increased Republican majorities in their Legislatures will likely implement the ardent anti-gambling positions they took in the elections. The strengthening of the conservative majority in Texas will be particularly harmful to the flailing horse-racing industry in that state, which despite recent acquisitions of Lone Star Park by an arm of the Chicksaw Nation and Sam Houston Park by Penn Gaming, finds itself on life support without machine gaming to subsidize their operations. Similarly, the election victory by the Cordish Cos. in Maryland may be the last nail in the coffin of that state’s horse-racing industry as the struggling Maryland Jockey Club, which was shut out of slot machines as a result of the elections, must attempt to compete without casino gambling in its back yard.

Over the next couple of years, it’s unlikely that any southern state will see any major expansions of gambling. With conservative Republicans controlling Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, poker players need to support their local rooms and plan for a long wait before new markets become available.

On the legal front, the Republicans also maintained control of one important southern Supreme Court. The Alabama Supreme Court, which has been at the epicenter of the gaming expansion in that state, saw all of its Republican justices re-elected. The result is the conservative majority that has essentially shut down that state’s bingo slot-machine industry remains intact. Other legal cases continue to wind their way through the state court systems, and over the next year or so, questions regarding the legality of poker in the Carolinas, sweepstakes slot machines in Florida and Virginia, and slot machine expansions in Miami should be answered.

Nov. 2 was not a good day if you wanted increased opportunities to play the game you love. As I wrote in the summer, you have to engage in the election process to make a difference and from the looks of it, poker players sat out this hand. Here’s looking to 2012 in the hopes that a better organized effort makes its presence felt at the ballot box.

— Marc W. Dunbar is a shareholder with Tallahassee law firm Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar, P.A. He represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State University College of Law.