The Best Hope For U.S. Online Poker Could Be State Initiatives

John Mehaffey September 28, 2015 1167 Reads
Washington state poker

The chances of an online poker bill emerging from Congress appear to be zero. Regulation efforts will need to occur at the state level. Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey already took this step. Others are at varying steps in the process.

There are grassroots efforts in several states that look to legalize and regulate online poker. One of these initiatives was able to file a bill after finding a sponsor in its state legislature.

Washington iPoker initiative

The first of these activist groups was founded by Curtis Woodard. It is called the Washington iPoker Initiative. It became active in 2012. A product of Woodard’s hard work emerged earlier this year when a bill he helped draft was filed in Washington state. It received the bill number HB 1114 and would have only permitted online poker. It was sponsored by Washington Rep. Sherry Appleton.

The bill died without any consideration. Woodard blamed part of this inaction on the lack of support, some of which only emerged after the bill was filed. The card clubs showed little interest in advancing an online poker bill this year in Washington state, according to Woodard.

Woodard hopes to file a similar bill in 2016. It is not the only online poker bill he expects to see next year.

“HB 1114 will be retained in its current form for the next session, but as of right now there is little to support from industry, state interests, nor players for that bill,” Woodard told USPoker. “Amaya has retained a lobbyist following our bill’s introduction, but they are not supporting that bill, rather they hope to introduce a new bill.”

The different bill may be one that permits Amaya Gaming to operate without an association with state card clubs and tribal casinos, according to Woodard. These entities may not be motivated to allow an outside company to enter Washington’s gaming industry as a competitor, but PokerStars’ parent company wants to be included in the state’s online poker industry, should one be created.

Woodard proposed a network approach in the online poker bill he helped draft. Amaya may prefer to market directly to players like it does outside the U.S. This could create a situation where interests do not present an idea the existing gaming industry could support, much like what is happening in California. This scenario could create conflict among proponents.

Washington poker players hope a compromise can be found. It is currently a felony to play online poker in the state.

Florida iPoker initiative

Martin Shapiro leads the Florida iPoker Initiative. Shapiro’s draft would license the state’s pari-mutuel companies that offer live poker throughout Florida. The proposal would only allow poker. House banked games would not be permitted. Florida would receive 10 percent of the net proceeds. It would also permit interstate and international networking of poker sites.

“It is essential for Florida poker players to contact the Florida legislators representing their own district to ask them to sponsor our draft bill,” Shapiro said. “The instructions on how to do this are on the ‘Take Action’ section of our website,” referring to ipokerflorida.com.

Social media plays a big part of the Florida iPoker initiative led by Shapiro. “Our social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook is essential as a grassroots public voice, which lends credence to our behind-the-scenes lobbying,” Shapiro said. “It’s a good way to make the issue stand out to the state legislators and give them a sense of the player support for it.”

Other state iPoker efforts

There is a small effort in Arizona to bring awareness to the mission of legalizing online poker in other states. A portal explaining the mission has been created by an Arizona iPoker initiative, as well as a Twitter account. No bill drafts or other action have been initiated at this time.

A social media presence has started in two other states: Illinois and Oregon.

How to start your iPoker initiative

If you do not live in a state where iPoker is legal, and there are no other efforts, it is easy to start one. The first step is to identify who your state representatives and senators are.

Contact them and let them know how you feel about the current state of online poker where you live. Many state lawmakers are happy to listen to constituents. If the legislature is not in session, you may even be able to enter into dialogue. Legislators are often occupied during session.

It is important to let state lawmakers know that online poker should be legal and regulated. California Assemblyman Mike Gatto was behind a bill that would have legalized online poker in the state. Gatto mentioned that only “four or five” of his 60,000 emails received in 2014 were about online poker. That does not motivate lawmakers to pass a bill that is seen as an expansion of gambling. A California online poker legalization effort makes mention of that in its campaign.

If your state has a lottery, reach out to the director’s office. Many state laws permit the lottery far more gaming than what is offered. This allowed online lotteries to launch in Georgia and Michigan without direct legislative approval. Online poker could be just as easy to launch, depending on how the law is written. Lottery directors are always looking for new ways to raise revenues. The Internet creates a unique opportunity that is currently untapped in most states.

Shapiro of the Florida iPoker Initiative said he would like to help online poker players looking to start a grassroots lobbying effort.

“I am happy to work with anyone interested in pursuing a similar campaign in their own state,” said Shapiro. “The more states that come on board with a bill being considered by the state legislature, the greater the consensus among lawmakers that this is an issue whose time has come.”

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