It’s not often poker is mixed into presidential politics, but that changed briefly over the weekend. Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang made some waves with a Tweet about the possible legalization of online poker.
Yang favors a federal approach rather than the state-by-state legalization that has taken place since Black Friday. Beyond simply online poker, his Tweet offered a rare, brief look at the gaming industry as part of a presidential campaign.
Yang proposes a federal online poker plan
The entrepreneur, lawyer, and philanthropist focused on creating a legal option that discourages players from offshore betting. The New Yorker argues that online poker also offers a tax revenue generator.
“The state-by-state rules are variable and push many players to offshore sites,” he noted. “We should clarify the rules and make it legal in all 50 states.”
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
Creating a nationwide federal framework received plenty of player support on Twitter.
I invite you on my show to expand on your tweet related to the online poker in the US. The situation for American players is in need of help. Players are being taken advantage of w/ few safeguards in place.
Please RT for awareness! Thank you for caring. pic.twitter.com/CLylQP81VI
— Joey Ingram 🤙🏻🤙🏻 (@Joeingram1) October 26, 2019
Some pointed out that illegal offshore sites continue to accept American players. The FullTilt poker fiasco after Black Friday serves as an example of how that can be bad for players.
“What most outside of poker don’t realize is that MANY sites still operate in the US,” professional poker player Phil Galvfond noted, “but because it’s outlawed, the ones remaining are those who ignore all regulations including responsible gaming, security, anti-money-laundering, etc.”
Federal versus state approaches to online poker
Many in the poker community embraced Yang’s proposal. They believe his plan could free up the industry after Black Friday shut down much of the American market.
Supporters believe a federal approach offers a better opportunity for more players to get in the game. Currently, only Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware offer legal online poker through sites like PokerStars, WSOP.com, and partypoker.
On the other hand, sports betting might serve as an example of how the opposite approach has worked well. Federal regulation also means there could be some form of federal ban also depending on the congress and president in power at any one time.
The virtual federal ban on sports betting outside Nevada was struck down by the Supreme Court in August 2018. But it took decades to get there.
Since then several states have gotten in on the sports betting bandwagon and the industry continues to boom. One of the reasons the ban on sports betting was struck down was a general lack of federal regulation in gambling issues. That has been something left to states for the most part.
Obviously online poker has lagged behind a bit, but there is some hope ahead. Pennsylvania is expected to go live soon and could be a populous state to add to shared liquidity pools.
Online poker hasn’t shown the breakneck legalization speed that sports betting has. But a few states moving in the right direction could spur others to get on board. A large populous state like New York could help tip the balance.
Poker and gambling as a political issue
Certainly Americans of all political stripes have shown an interest in gambling and that goes for poker as well. Players like Daniel Negreanu generally approach politics from the left.
Others like Doyle Brunson approach politics from a conservative angle. A trip to a casino poker room will reveal players with political opinions across the political landscape.
As a former casino owner, President Donald Trump has experience in the industry. However, the Trump Department of Justice has been at odds with online gaming efforts.
The DOJ continues to battle with state efforts by arguing that the Wire Act applies to more than just sports betting. Those efforts have hampered state efforts at legalization.
Opponents of the reinterpretation of an Obama-era DOJ opinion on the Wire Act have sued in court. The New Hampshire Lottery Commission has argued that the new opinion creates new regulation harms what it believes is a state issue.
New Hampshire won the first round and the DOJ then appealed that ruling.
“To begin with, an opinion issued in 2011 at the request of New York and Illinois state lotteries narrowed the scope of the Wire Act,” OnlinePokerReport.com notes. “The opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel specifically stated that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting.”
The future of the issue
So far, few candidates have weighed in on the issue other than Yang. At a campaign event in Reno, Nevada, in April, Elizabeth Warren expressed some reservations to the Nevada Independent.
She argued there shouldn’t be more federal regulation of gaming and that the issue “presents a whole new set of challenges.” She didn’t answer questions as to whether she supports a federal ban or the DOJ’s efforts.
Warren said she is “uneasy” about online gaming’s expansion and wants to study the issue more.
“Site-based gambling as a part of the vacation, as part of the destination, is a very different thing from online,” Warren told the newspaper, “and getting the appropriate restrictions in place so that children don’t have access, so that people who have problems with gambling don’t have access, are challenges that haven’t yet been addressed.”
What will come of Yang’s proposal? Obviously the country is a year way from an election. Not only would he have to win the Democratic nomination but also the presidency.
According to the RealClearPolitics poll averages, he sits sixth behind frontrunners Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders with 2.5%.