US iGaming Advocates Should Coalesce On Message, Legislation

Regulated Online Poker: To Win The Debate, Rethink Your Tactics

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Say what you will about Sheldon Adelson, the evil face of the anti-iGaming effort in the US, he is a citizen who felt the need for a law and set out to get it enacted.

This is the American way – government for the people, by the people. He spearheaded a bill (the Restoration of America’s Wire Act) and he shopped around for someone to introduce it.

This is how the process works, and there is a lesson here for pro-online poker advocates. Granted, he’s a billionaire, and has the kind of limitless resources at his fingertips about which the pro-iGaming side can only dream, which makes shopping a bill around Congress much easier.

But he has made no secret that his is a personal crusade against internet gambling, even as it goes against the interests of his own industry. 

On the other side of the coin is the rest of the casino industry – faceless corporations, most of which are desperate for revenue and see online gaming as the next cash cow. Along with international iGaming giants seeking to enter US markets, they are the driving forces behind legislation in states like California and Pennsylvania.

But to an unaffected outside observer, doesn’t this make the debate a simple one, one that is between those who seek to expand gambling to the internet, and those who seek to “protect the children from a casino in every hand?”

Framed that way, it is easy to see that we could lose this debate.

Introduction of online gambling legislation is vital

In order to move the debate away from the casino industry tug o’ war and bring it back to the real issue of consumer protection, where it belongs, “we the people” need to be getting bills introduced in our legislatures that approach internet poker specifically – and iGaming in general – from that perspective.

We need legislatures to be debating how they are going to provide those consumer protections in a world where internet gaming already exists, instead of the endless argument over who will be allowed to profit from emerging iGaming markets, and how much tax revenue can be collected. 

Have grassroots efforts failed, or have they not even started?

Grassroots is supposed to come from the people, and a grassroots effort to establish consumer protections for online poker must really come from the players themselves. Online poker players are but a small fraction of the population, and precious few of those players are taking an active interest in the politics of it all. But internet poker does have its advocates, and it needs those advocates to get some bills introduced.

If a poker advocate in Washington, the state most hostile to internet poker, can write a bill and get it introduced in his legislature, it stands to reason that activists in other states could do the same.

We managed to get our bill introduced without spending any money, and while that lack of funding is a big part of why the bill stalled this session, the bill will be waiting in the next session, and we have all year to build support.

It is an example of true grassroots action, one I hope others will follow.

The introduction of a bill is the vital first step that gives players something to rally around, as well as serving as a vehicle from which to argue for consumer protections, and to show a regulated alternative is a more effective tack than prohibition. It focuses the message on specific language, rather than vague and largely undefined principles.

Advocates must take first steps for legislators

In my experience, legislators might support the general principles for which we advocate, but they want to see a fleshed out proposal before they can or will take any action. It simply isn’t enough to only advance an idea; we have to hand them detailed proposals, and then push for their introduction.

Doing so will begin the process, and this is something we need to see happen in far more states. Simply waiting for legislation to come up on its own in your state is going to leave the vast majority of online poker players out in the cold.

Political action requires people to take action. We cannot sit back and wait for someone else to take care of it for us. We need to be the driving force.

If we, as players, are unwilling to take action to forever establish and preserve our freedom to play the game online, then we are abdicating our self determination and handing the Sheldon Adelsons of the world a victory by default.

If we are to win, we need a team of players as passionate about our freedom to play the game as Adelson is about stopping us, and we need them pushing actual legislation in every state.

- 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).
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