On Monday, we learned of bitter infighting among the main political backers of regulating online poker at the US federal level. Confirming the old adage that defeat is an orphan, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) can’t blame each other fast enough for the failure of Reid’s poker bill to gain traction in the Senate. Heller claims Reid changed the play at the line of scrimmage, while Reid accused Heller of trying to disguise the unpleasant truth that he couldn’t convince his fellow GOP senators to piss on him if he was on fire.
How is it that the United States can successfully land a spaceship on Mars but consistently fail to pass federal poker legislation? Rebecca Liggero recently sat down with Professor I. Nelson Rose, author of Gambling And The Law and (with co-author Walter T. Champion Jr.) the new Gaming Law In A Nutshell, to discuss this contradiction. Rose believes the answer lies in the fact that whenever American society and politicians are presented with something unfamiliar, “the first reaction is always: prohibit it. We don’t know what it is. Outlaw it.”
Over time, Rose says the attitude changes to “let’s think about it. And maybe we can run it ourselves.” Despite this most recent federal setback, Rose believes the US is due for “a real explosion of internet gambling,” for which the spark will be the nation’s dire economy. “Gambling always spreads during tough economic times” because both government and citizens tend to view gambling as “a painless and voluntary tax.” This current economic crisis is magnified because “the states are getting no help whatsoever from the federal government.” State legislators are under extreme pressure to balance their budgets, “but they can’t raise taxes anymore and they can’t cut services anymore.”
Enter online gambling. Rose believes the state lotteries have the inside edge, “because they can act faster. For everyone else, they need state legislation and then you’ve got to work out who gets the licenses. That’s the big question.” Which is part of the reason big casino operators like Caesars and their industry associations and lobby groups are making such a push for federal regulation. Companies like Caesars “don’t want to have to compete in 50 states and the District of Columbia to try to get a license where there’s powerful local operators.”
Rose concedes that federal legislation could make things easier in areas like licensing and taxation, “but you don’t need it. We’ve had multi-state lotteries set up without any federal law. And gambling is a state issue. It’s always been a state issue. We’ll never have a uniform policy … Politically, [federal legislation is] not going to happen, so it’s not worth really worrying about.”
If US operators want to worry about something, Rose feels they should worry about holding on too tightly to the here and now in a rapidly evolving technological world. “If you’re carrying around the most advanced video games ever invented with beautiful graphics – and a short attention span – in your pocket, you’re not going to want to play a lottery where they have a drawing three days from now where you pick numbers. And you’re not going to want to go into a casino. Everything is going to change.”