US presidential candidate Andrew Yang shone his political spotlight on online poker this weekend. Seemingly out of the blue on Saturday morning, the Democratic challenger tweeted his support for nationwide legalization.
Online poker is legal in 4 states. The state-by-state rules are variable and push many players to offshore sites. We should clarify the rules and make it legal in all 50 states. US players and companies would benefit and new tax revenues could be used to mitigate addiction.
— Andrew Yang🧢🇺🇸 (@AndrewYang) October 26, 2019
Poker is a thread that has historically stitched the fabric of Americana together, perhaps the country’s second-favorite pastime behind baseball. Yet as the candidate points out, only a fraction of states have legal online poker today.
Yang tweeted about gambling while attending a series of Town Hall meetings in Nevada this weekend.
The relatively niche issue hit our social media timelines hard, with most of the poker community chiming in on Yang’s tweet. Some well-known players, including Daniel Negreanu, expressed support for the long-shot candidate even before he broached the topic.
“Ummm YES!!!!” Negreanu tweeted Saturday. “Poker players who want the freedom to play poker from home, this just might be your guy.” The game’s most-recognized star added the #YangGang hashtag to the end of his message.
Poker vlogger Joey Ingram even took the opportunity to invite the candidate to appear on his YouTube show, an offer which Yang acknowledged.
Yang’s background in mathematics gives him a certain appeal among poker players, as does his campaign slogan Make America Think Harder (MATH).
There are, however, a percentage of American voters that will never support a candidate that campaigns on principles resembling socialism. Yang is considered a significant underdog to secure the Democratic nomination for 2020.
By our count, online poker is actually legal in five states:
The first three have been regulating online poker for several years, though the game is not exactly thriving in any of them.
The bottom two states, meanwhile, are working toward launch under comparatively new laws. Legislative authorization for online poker in PA dates back to late 2017, while lawmakers in WV just enacted their bill earlier this year.
Apart from that, however, the conversation has mostly stalled in the US. Even Michigan, which passed a bill that the governor vetoed in 2018, seems unlikely to return to the table in 2019.
It’s also worth clarifying that there is no federal law that makes online poker illegal.
To the contrary, Congress already provided a roadmap to regulation with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). That law enacted in 2006 expressly gives states the power to dictate which forms of online gambling are legal within their borders.
There’s also, of course, the 10th Amendment covering state sovereignty with a broader brush.
Yang’s point about clarifying the rules is well taken, however. The patchwork legality has created a fractured framework of regulation that is relatively unappealing for policymakers and operators alike. And unlike most gambling games, poker requires a large pool of players to create a viable product — larger than most single states can offer.
As long as the UIGEA is on the books and the multi-state poker alliance continues to add members, though, there is little need for another federal online gambling law. Remember, it took more than 25 years to get PASPA repealed after Congress enacted that misguided piece of sports betting legislation in 1992.
That said, the rekindled threat from the US Department of Justice means the industry might be heading down that path regardless.