A Plan For Advancing U.S. Online Poker Regulation
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Here’s One Way To Speed Up US Online Poker Regulation

Line of dominos
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While I am an advocate for state-level regulation of internet poker, I also believe going one state at a time will take more than a decade to get to anything close to widespread regulation of the game.

And waiting for it to happen organically in each state is going to leave most US players on the outside looking in.

But I believe there’s a common-sense strategy, as yet untried, that could accelerate the process for regulated online poker in the United States: a consensus bill.

Change the approach, change the outcome

The current approach seems to be based on the assumption that a few big states – like California – moving forward will trigger a domino effect across the United States.

But, in order for the dominoes to fall, they must be first arranged.

In my view, what we need is a consensus bill, one that:

  • Balances the needs of the industry and of local interests with the wants of the players.
  • Addresses regulatory harmonization issues.
  • Provides a model for liquidity sharing across state lines.
  • Provides a common set of core rules and standards that allows the industry to prosper.

And we need that bill to be simultaneously advanced in as many states as possible.

A common bill could be the needed impetus to get legislatures to, if not move forward on a bill, at least begin debating the issue.

Couple that with a committee of dedicated players working in every state with the sole goal of getting that common bill introduced in their legislatures, and we will have a much more efficient approach to advocating for regulated online poker in America. 

Who should write the bill and what it should look like 

NCLGS

The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States has produced an outline that would be ideal to serve as the basis for a consensus bill.

Following their work would go a long way to gaining support from those state legislators on the Council, all of whom are potential sponsors of a consensus bill in their respective states. 

Poker players

Getting online poker right on the legislative front is no simple task. Poker players are uniquely suited to provide valuable insights that can make the difference between an effective bill and an unworkable one.

I have written a draft myself, one I expect to be introduced in my state’s legislature in the coming session.

That legislation provides a broad outline, allowing in-state cardrooms to extend their games online, with shared liquidity on ‘skins’ of authorized networks, and allows the top international operators to serve as those authorized networks.

Specific details are left to the Gambling Commission to impose administratively. This allows changes to be made, to adapt to changes in the market and the industry, at the administrative level rather than returning to the legislature to pass a new bill.

This works well in states with their own Gaming Control Board, but only about half do. So a more detailed proposal is likely needed for this consensus bill. 

Martin Shapiro (@PokerXanadu) crafted a fine draft for a federal bill, which could, perhaps, be adapted to a consensus, state level bill. He has also written a guideline for regulations that could become a part of the consensus bill. 

The PPA

The PPA could easily have a role to play in a multi-state legislative initiative. They have a staff capable of producing a bill draft, and the infrastructure necessary to coordinate efforts in the many states.

I also seem to remember a certain board member offering to draft a bill for members willing to push their legislators to introduce it.

Getting a bill introduced 

For all the different interests pulling in different directions, coming to a general agreement on what a ‘consensus’ bill should be is the easy part. Getting legislatures to take up such a bill will be a daunting challenge all its own.

But state representatives are far more responsive to constituents than most people realize, and if players are willing to put forth a concerted effort, they will be hard for legislators to ignore. 

It will take more than a single request to get a bill introduced.

I spent the entire year between legislative sessions reaching out to lawmakers, selling them on my legislative proposal. I’ve been ignored and I’ve been paid lip service, but I kept at it until I found the right legislators to introduce a bill.

And that work appears to have paid off, with my bill tentatively set to be brought up this year.  

Now, I don’t hold any delusions that we can get a bill in all fifty states. I am sure there are a few that will never authorize any form of online gaming.

But by adopting a common proposal and pressing for its passage in many states at once, we not only speed the process considerably, but we also preempt the patchwork of varying regulations that is the biggest downside to taking a state by state approach.

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Curtis Woodard
- Curtis is a recreational poker player from Seattle, WA who advocates for state ipoker legislation. He is the founder of the Washington Internet Poker Initiative and sponsor of Initiatives 582 and 583. Catch him on Twitter at @curtinsea and @ipokerwa (WIPI).