Online Poker Not in Danger

November 11, 2014
Online Poker Not in Danger

Republicans won in a landslide across every political spectrum on Election Day. The GOP now holds both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. Republicans also cleaned up at the state level, winning almost every predicted contest and most coin flips.  There were also several upsets.

The online gaming community has a reason to be concerned. Republicans were in control when the Unlawful Internet Enforcement Act found a backdoor through an unrelated must-pass bill. The likelihood of a similar occurrence happening in the next two years appears to be slim.

Online gaming was completely unregulated in 2006 when Bill Frist and his supporters managed to quietly attach the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to the unrelated Safe Port Act. It was never read or debated.  The landscape is much different in the U.S. today as it was eight years ago.

Lame Duck Session

Congress will return to Washington to complete unfinished business. Democrats lost at least 10 seats in the House of Representatives and at least seven seats in the U.S. Senate. This has affected the attitude in Washington, especially among defeated democrats. There are predictions that very little will get done during the end of this Congress. If this holds true, it makes the likelihood of any change in online gaming policy virtually zero.

The lack of any pressing bills bodes well for the status quo. The fewer pieces of legislation that pass, the less likely it is that anything related to online gaming can be silently attached to unrelated bills.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s position makes any damage to online poker even less likely. While his party lost all but one major Nevada election, he still represents the interest of the state. He is on the record as supporting online poker, while opposing casino games on the Internet. At worst, online poker survives any last minute measure, while house games are banned.

What Will the New Congress Do?

Republicans are known to support conservative values. Gambling has been a cause that has made it onto GOP agendas. The opposition to casinos and related topics has been muted compared to previous years.

Republican governors preside over several key gaming states. Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota and Iowa were the first four states to legalize casinos. All have republican governors. Many more casino states currently have GOP governors or will in 2015. Republicans are no longer synonymous with being opposed to all gambling.

Senate Majority Leader-Elect Mitch McConnell is from Kentucky, which is home to one of the most recognized racing industries in the country. Kentucky permits racing wagers over the Internet. Arguably, its racing industry depends on this and off-track betting to survive.

Online lottery ticket sales are legal in Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York. Several other states are seeking to join this pool. This would be prohibited under the current Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) language, a bill proposed by supporters of Sheldon Adelson’s agenda.

Not only would lottery tickets fall victim to the current RAWA proposal, any future expansion into house games or drawings that resembled slots and any other casino game would also be prohibited. This is exactly why governors oppose any online gambling ban.

Republicans Campaigns Left Moral Agenda at the Door

Marriage equality bans fell throughout the country in the weeks preceding the election. In previous elections, this might have been a great time for GOP candidates to try and appeal to the conservative base. It appears that this time around, republicans assumed those votes were already in the bag. GOP candidates kept quiet about conservative issues and ran campaigns based on repealing the Affordable Care Act and improving the economy. Some simply ran on the platform that they were not Obama supporters. None campaigned to outlaw internet freedoms.

Ramming through a conservative agenda is contrary to the ultimate goal of winning the White House in 2016.  Any policy that could be used against the GOP is likely to be avoided.

What about Sheldon Adelson?

Sheldon Adelson appears to be the only influence pushing an agenda that would ban online gaming. He cannot do it alone, no matter how much he and his company donates to candidates. Any bill his lobbyists present will have substantial obstacles to overcome. Even if his dream makes it through Congress, it still has to make it past President Obama’s desk.

Online poker supporters learned from the UIGEA passage. The prevalent attitude in 2006 was that the UIGEA could never happen. The online poker community now knows what to look for, as do lawmakers.

Sen. Reid Still Relevant

Republicans are already dancing on the grave of Sen. Harry Reid’s political career. It is far too soon to do that.
Sen. Reid will still represent Nevada’s interests. He is also President Obama’s biggest ally left in Washington. Should any online gaming bill make it through Congress, President Obama still has the final say. Sen. Reid seems certain to lobby for a veto on anything that would outlaw Nevada’s online poker industry.  On the other hand, casino games may be a way to find a compromise on the topic.

Time to Compromise

The lame duck session may provide the opportunity to finally resolve the online gaming situation once and for all. It is not completely out of the question that Sen. Reid could finally make good on his promise to bring online gaming to a vote with provisions that protect online poker and existing gaming already live. While that may happen, the House of Representatives may be unwilling to waste precious time on the subject before going home for the holidays.

Prediction: More of the Same

The most likely scenario is that we are still talking about how the federal government has yet to address online gaming by the time the presidential elections are held in 2016.

One more prediction: We are still talking about the chances of an online poker lame duck bill when the next midterm elections are held in 2018.

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