Congress sets new online poker hearings, but lawyers downplay expectations

congress-hearing-online-poker-expectationsThe US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade has scheduled a new hearing for online poker on Nov. 18 at 9am. The list of speakers for “Internet Gaming: Regulating In An Online World” is as yet unknown, but we can only hope that whoever ends up hogging the microphone has more sense than to get bogged down in discussions about robots and terrorists. The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold its own hearing the day before the House version, presumably intended to remind those Nevada land-based casino outfits that online poker isn’t their exclusive domain.

While news of the latest public mention of online poker in Washington has many US players ginned up like six-year-olds on the night before Christmas, some prominent gaming industry lawyers have been busy zipping up their Grinch costumes. Speaking at a gaming law conference in Las Vegas on Thursday, I. Nelson Rose reminded attendees that this particular do-nothing Congress hasn’t passed much of anything, let alone semi-controversial laws like regulating online poker. Rose suggested individual states like New Jersey, California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts and Nevada will likely beat the feds to the punch (although Nevada appears to be willing to let the feds take the lead in the hope of becoming online poker‘s national regulator).

Lewis & Roca partner Anthony Cabot echoed Rose’s prognosis in a recent op-ed for eGamingReview magazine. Cabot picks New Jersey to spearhead the intrastate poker movement, and once that legislative bridge has been crossed, Cabot expects other states will follow hot on Jersey’s heels – just as 37 states eventually followed the lead of Delaware, the first state to introduce a lottery in 1963. However, Cabot cautioned that cutthroat infighting amongst pro-gaming interests could prove even more fatal to legislative success than opposition from traditional ‘think of the children’ opponents like Focus on the Family.

While Iowa is still making only half-hearted attempts to bring online poker to its residents, Thursday saw the state Racing and Gaming Commission unanimously approve the right to make online bets on horse races – even those that take place in other states – as early as January. With this regulatory hurdle cleared, all that remains is to work out a deal with a private vendor and the Iowa horseman’s association. The online option will (initially) be available only through the Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino. Iowa joins the over 20 states that have now enacted such advance deposit wagering on the ponies. You know, if that famous painting of those dogs playing poker had instead featured horses at the table, we suspect online card games would not be facing such stiff opposition in Washington.