The US Online Gambling Debate Is Going Mainstream, and the Time to Act Is Now

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With the online gambling debate heating up poker players would be wise to join the fight.

As much as I have wanted to ignore the proselytizing of the anti-online gambling crowd and just let their over the top fire and brimstone speeches fall on deaf ears, this now seems to be an impossible task, as the online gambling debate has moved from the confines of the Internet into the public eye, with feature articles in Politico, The Hill, and other mainstream publications.

This is major shift for me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

We are not dealing with an Internet troll – we are dealing with a well-funded, coordinated group that seems hell-bent on achieving its aims.

My previous position on the Internet gambling debate

I’ve always felt playing defense against outrageous claims was a bad strategy.

My thinking was that there was little to gain by drawing unwanted attention to arguments that more closely resemble street corner soliloquies delivered by a rambling madman about the impending apocalypse – that will apparently be caused by online gambling – than a coherent argument.

I may want to chalk up the opinions of Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling group as having the same effect as a carnival barker capable of luring a few people into the attraction, with most of those people leaving mid-show, extremely disappointed that the promised unicorn bore a striking resemblance to a goat with a paper towel tube covered in glitter stuck to its head.

But increasingly it’s becoming clear to me that whether people want to hear Adelson’s argument or not, they are now getting it in an easily digestible, fairly polished and streamlined form and it’s reaching a much broader audience these days.

CSIG and C4COP provide the names and the conflict needed to fuel a mainstream story

With real lobbying groups now backing both camps (Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and the AGA’s Coalition for Consumer Online Protection), we are starting to see bigger names including former congressional members, mayors, and governors join the fray.

With those bigger names comes a wider audience and better media access.

Every time a newspaper article is run, an online column penned, or an appearance made on some TV show, the battle over online gambling gets pushed closer to the front row.

Here is just a snippet of the recent editorials and feature articles that have been hitting the interwebs:

This past week also saw Jon Ralston follow up his somewhat controversial article regarding Steve Wynn’s connection to online gambling, specifically Wynn’s involvement with, and/or backing of, Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online gambling movement.

Ralston’s feature article detailing Sheldon Adelson’s “Jihad” against online gambling appeared in Politico and was quickly disseminated throughout the online poker and iGaming world.

Online gambling regulation is evolving into a major story, one increasingly covered and read by people outside of the debate.

Legislation in NJ and NV have changed the way online gambling is covered

Additionally, since online gambling has been legalized in Nevada and New Jersey (Delaware as well), major media outlets now have dedicated journalists covering these industries, and these stories no longer get passed over or relegated to Friday night postings.

Online poker no longer gets the occasional Nathan Vardi column in Forbes; now there are several reporters covering the iGaming markets, so the reporting has become better. And – here is that word again – these reporters have better access than the poker reporters of old.

More to the point, more people are now reading these stories and taking the issue seriously.

Cable TV is the final frontier

When you start hitting the cable news airwaves it’s only a matter of time before the issue starts to draw political Mason Dixon lines.

Fortunately the one network that has talked about this issue, CNBC , doesn’t have the toe-the-network-line viewers that you’ll find at MSNBC or FOX News, but it’s really only a matter of time before we start to see the prime time lineups of these networks choosing a position on this issue.

And the issue has morphed from the right to play poker (an important but not overly polarizing issue) to arguments over state’s rights and civil liberties.

It would seem that the right to play online poker in 2014 is the new access to birth control from 2013, where the real issue was Obamacare, with birth control being the vehicle driving the fight.

The only way this issue doesn’t get picked up by cable news at some point is if both networks are in agreement on the matter, because where would the fun [read as: ratings] be in that?

No more brushing it aside

With the exposure already increasing (perhaps only Black Friday received more mainstream media attention than this current fight is garnering), it’s time for the online gambling advocates to get out in front of this wave and start writing the narrative instead of writing cranky “letters to the editor.”

I’m still not enamored with this mainly defensive posture that is being taken.

Right now it’s as if we are playing basketball and every time we make a defensive stop we give the ball back and never look to score ourselves. But my opinion of how hard and how vocally we should push back is changing.

For poker players, this argument is now out of the margins and we can either let others fight it for us, or we can mold it and shape it ourselves and take control of the debate.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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