Don’t get too excited about online poker just yet

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At the end of June, Delaware became the second state to authorize online poker, which has left many Ante Up readers wondering if the dominoes are finally beginning to fall to create a national online gambling network. In short, the answer is no, but with the November election looming large for those interested in online gambling; hope springs eternal.

By way of background, the first passage of an online gaming measure came last year when Washington, D.C., passed an online gaming ordinance for its residents. The gesture was symbolic as D.C. could never offer the liquidity and game handle to justify investment into an online gaming infrastructure.

After that, Nevada became the first state to authorize online gambling for its residents. In late June, mega gaming technology companies IGT and Bally became the first to receive licenses as online casinos from the Nevada Gaming Commission. More licenses are expected to be issued over the summer and fall, but much like the Delaware passage, I view these licenses as really more symbolic allowing for the beta testing of online technologies than truly opening the door in the United States to full-blown online gambling.

Unfortunately, these jurisdictions have small populations and even smaller online play. Since the authorizations are merely intrastate, the play will be geo-fenced to prevent those outside of state’s borders from playing. Strict federal laws restrict any access by players outside of these states and prohibit any funds from being transferred interstate related to any of these online gambling offerings.

So what needs to happen to make the online poker and online casinos a reality? Time and a lot of change in Washington. In June, American Gaming Association power broker Frank Fahrenkopf summed it up in a simple statement, calling Congress “dysfunctional.” Citing the need for federal legislation to implement an interstate compact governing online gambling, Fahrenkopf expressed the likelihood that it will take some time to clear the gridlock in Washington.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, this 30-year veteran of Washington politics predicted an unfortunate patchwork quilt of state regulations, none in states that can provide sufficient game play and liquidity needed to justify investment in a true online gambling infrastructure by the private sector.

All eyes of the gambling heavyweights are focused on the November elections. Most polls predict the U.S. House of Representatives being retained by the Republicans. The U.S. Senate needs three seats to change hands for the Republicans to regain control of the upper chamber. It’s unlikely should Republicans control both chambers that a radical expansion of gambling at the national level will pass.

For readers looking to get politically active, the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races are as follows: Sen. Scott Brown (R) v. Elizabeth Warren (D) in Massachusetts; George Allen (R) v. Tim Kane (D) in Virginia; Denny Rehberg (R) v. Sen. Jon Tester (D) in Montana; Sen. Dean Heller (R) v. Shelley Berkley (D) in Nevada; yet-to-be-determined Republican v. Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri; Rick Berg (R) v. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in North Dakota; Tommy Thompson (R) v. yet-to-be-determined Democrat in Wisconsin; Josh Mandel (R) v. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in Ohio; Connie Mack IV (R) v. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in Florida; and yet-to-be-determined Republican v. Martin Heinrich (D) in New Mexico.

For those truly interested in online poker in the U.S., my advice is don’t be distracted by the mirage in Nevada and Delaware. Get involved in the elections and elect some candidates who will break the gridlock in Washington and pass legislation authorizing a responsible multistate online gaming compact.

— Marc W. Dunbar represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State’s College of Law. Follow him on Twitter: @FLGamingWatch.