New year, but be ready for status quo for online poker

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As the “fiscal cliff” negotiations raged on in late December and into January, one thing became clear: The prospects for national online poker legislation were folded. Despite the efforts by Sen. Harry Reid and others on Capitol Hill, the gridlock of the past continued its grip upon Washington. The loss of this legislation means the status quo will be maintained for quite some time.

An analysis of the demise of the language demonstrates that even when “Big Gaming” aligns behind a measure that there still exists formidable players at the poker table in our nation’s capital. The most powerful of these players rivaling the American Gaming Association are the state lotteries and the Indian tribes. These groups collectively control the largest piece of the national gaming dollar. Fearful over how Internet poker could affect their business models, they had their lobbyists working overtime to stem any momentum Reid could muster behind his Internet poker proposal. At the end of the day, the old lobbying adage “it is easy to kill a bill, but hard to pass one” carried the day again.

Looking ahead, the AGA and Internet poker advocates will need to figure a way to broaden their coalition to include at least one of these groups in an effort to breathe life into the concept of national poker system whereby states essentially opt in to the national poker network via executive or legislative fiat. Without sounding too much like a “Monday-morning quarterback,” the Nevada centric proposal, while offering some appeal from a pure regulatory standpoint, must be modified to include these non-AGA gaming stakeholders for opportunity and success to meet on this proposal.

Shifting gears a bit, much like on the Internet poker proposal, the influence of state’s rights is being borne out on another gaming front and is likely headed to Washington for its ultimate resolution. New Jersey is taking on the sporting pantheon in North America in its quest for statewide sports wagering. Gov. Chris Christie has stayed true to his commitment to New Jersey’s voters and his maverick ways by pushing forward with allowing New Jersey gaming operations and racetracks to get into the sports book industry. The NCAA, NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB have brought an action to enjoin the operation of these regulations and have the New Jersey sportsbook regulations found in violation of federal law.

At issue is whether a 1992 federal law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) can prevent a state from authorizing sports wagering by its residents. The act grandfathered in sports wagering in four states with its initial passage. Ironically one of those states was New Jersey; however, New Jersey failed to secure these entitlements by missing the initial window to enact its bookmaking laws in time for PASPA grandfathering. Christie, 20 years later, stands fighting for the rights of not just hungry sports bettors in New Jersey but potentially hungry sports bettors across the country. For New Jersey to prevail, a federal court and likely the U. S. Supreme Court will need to find that giving some states gambling privileges while denying them to others is unconstitutional.

The relevance of this case to poker players really depends on how the courts rule as one state’s rights gambling case invariably has precedent on future cases involving legalized gambling by states. Unless something dramatic changes, Internet poker will be a state-level, hodge-podge amalgamation until opportunity and success meet around the table of compromise in Congress.

— 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.