US online poker law: bad news for Hawaii, Florida; better for Nevada and DC

TAGs: florida, Hawaii, intrastate poker, Nevada, Washington DC

There’s been no shortage of developments on the US intrastate online poker front(s), so without further ado…

HawaiiFirst, the bad news. HAWAII’s online poker legislation (SB 755) was without question the wackiest of all the state proposals, what with its $100m annual fees and 20% tax on wagers, so it’s not a huge surprise to learn that it’s been tossed into a volcano, where it shall remain at least until next year. While the bill successfully navigated its way through two House committees, it never got a hearing in the House Finance Committee because Chairman Marcus Oshiro said there wasn’t enough public interest to merit additional consideration. Aloha, SB 755…

FloridaIn FLORIDA, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla’s SB 812 intrastate poker legislation has met a similarly morbid fate. Despite sailing through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee by a 10-2 vote, the bill could only muster a 2-2 tie at the Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday, leaving Florida’s intrastate hopes dead for another year. Among the groups that had lobbied hard to defeat the bill were the Florida Sherriff’s Association, whose Frank Messersmith called online poker “the ultimate convenience gambling” and “internet crack,” to which young males are particularly vulnerable. To better insulate these young males from further temptation, Messersmith plans to lobby hard to ship all attractive women aged 18-34 out of state.

NevadaThe news isn’t completely dire. In NEVADA, the Assembly Judiciary Committee unanimously approved an amended version of AB 258, the online poker legislation sponsored by Assemblyman William Horne. However, the price for such unanimity was the removal of the bill’s interstate and international provisions, leaving just the intrastate option. There appears to be some confusion over whether the intrastate option would immediately take effect if the bill were to successfully navigate the rest of Nevada’s legislative hurdles. Horne told that “the parties agreed that intranet poker will be able to be commenced, and the Nevada Gaming Commission will be able to license gaming for online poker, before the federal regulation happens.”

However, the amended bill states that “regulations governing the licensing and operation of interactive gaming … do not become effective until a federal law providing for the licensing of internet poker is signed into law or the United States Department of Justice advises the Board or Commission that it is permissible to license Internet poker operations.” So are we clear on this? No? Well, that makes two of us…

Horne sowed even more confusion by rejecting earlier media reports that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was not in favor of any pro-gaming state legislation that risked incurring federal wrath. Horne claims he has since had a meeting with Sandoval, from which Horne emerged “confident that the governor will sign [the amended bill] when it reaches his desk.” On one aspect of this bill there is zero confusion — namely, Horne’s desire to make Nevada the go-to jurisdiction for regulating online poker countrywide if/when the feds get off their spotty arses and actually legislate.

Washington-DCWe end our intrastate stop in WASHINGTON, DC, where, thanks to congressional inattention, online poker is already legal. The DC Lottery Commission, with help from (50/50 poker revenue partner) lottery provider Intralot, are hoping to have a workable no-stakes system up and running by July 1, rolling out the full monty version by the end of 2011. Council Member Michael A. Brown told local TV outlet WUSA that the system would operate from 20-30 proposed ‘hotspots’, such as bars and hotels, and that anyone in the country would be eligible to play, so long as they registered with the system and were physically located in DC at the time of play. (That sound you just heard was every foreign diplomat in Washington cracking open his/her laptop.)

Of course, before the magic happens, DC’s municipal gov’t will have to craft the necessary regulations in detail, and amend existing lottery regulations to incorporate poker play. And there remains the all too possible scenario of federal politicians just plain fucking with DC, because they can. Frederick Hill, spokesman for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told the Washington Post that while he wasn’t aware of any existing plans to scuttle DC poker, Congress could still intervene if there is “a concern that a practice is either illegal or not in the interests of the federal taxpayers who support the District of Columbia.” If you need further proof of DC’s relative helplessness, witness the recent federal budget showdown, in which Obama won some Republican brownie points by unilaterally scrapping some DC laws that the GOP found morally objectionable – like DC’s needle-exchange program and a program that reimbursed poor DC women for abortion costs. Washington’s Mayor Vincent Gray only learned of these moves after the fact, from media reports. Will tomorrow’s headlines tell him that online poker has been aborted?


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