Tuesday saw the launch of FairPlayUSA (FPUSA), a new ‘coalition’ attempting to persuade lawmakers to institute a federal regulatory regime for online poker in the United States. FPUSA describes itself as a group of “law enforcement officials, consumer protection experts, poker players, companies in the commercial gaming industry and other Americans concerned about internet gambling.” The group’s advisory board includes former Homeland Security chief and ex-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, ‘internet safety expert’ Parry Aftab and pro poker player Greg Raymer. The group is encouraging US poker players to sign a petition on its website that it intends to submit to Congress at some point.
According to its website, FPUSA was formed “to educate the public and policymakers on the need to reform internet gambling laws in three key areas: strong law enforcement and strict regulation, consumer and child protection, and the rights of adults to play online poker.” It posted a list of its 10 “Principles”, the first of which is to “strengthen the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 to unambiguously eliminate illegal internet gambling.” The second Principle is to “provide tools to crack down on unlicensed foreign operators who do not comply with US law.”
If at first glance it seems odd that a “non-profit grassroots campaign” that sought US poker players’ support would put such an emphasis on eliminating their access to international online poker outfits (of which many of these players have grown quite fond), the mystery ends with the knowledge that FPUSA’s initial funding was provided by Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts. As such, they have already been accused of being an ‘astroturf’ outfit attempting to disguise a nakedly corporate agenda as a spontaneous grassroots public uprising. (Watering the astroturf for FPUSA are Middle Coast LLC, a trio of Washington, DC-based media consultants that helps its clients “push your message, build a community and reach your advocacy goals.”)
Obviously, similar astroturfing allegations could be made about the Poker Players Alliance, which relied heavily on financial support from some of the international online poker companies pre-Black Friday. But the fact that FPUSA’s agenda so neatly dovetails with the stated goals of the American Gaming Association (including an adamantly anti-intrastate gambling stance) does suggest that Frank Fahrenkopf has launched an AGA-lite for people that don’t own casinos, but would really like to help out those who do.
FPUSA’s emergence, coming as it does on the heels of the anti-intrastate gambling letter penned by Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl and the AGA’s overt hints of a new federal online poker bill set to debut in the US Senate, makes it clear that US land-based casino concerns are serious about making a ‘big push’ for regulation this fall. That is, assuming a budget deal is eventually brokered and the US hasn’t been plunged into such financial chaos that would render a relatively trivial matter such as online poker moot.