Last September, the White House launched its “We The People” project, which encouraged US citizens to create and sign online petitions on specific issues near and dear to their hearts. Once a particular petition garnered a certain number of signatures, President Obama’s staff promised a direct response. On Friday, Brian Deese, deputy director of the National Economic Council, issued the administration’s official response to a Poker Players Alliance petition regarding the legality of online poker, titled What We Have to Say About Online Poker, the key section of which reads as follows:
The Administration understands that many Americans engage in paid online poker games for entertainment purposes. Online gambling on sporting events or contests violates federal law. The legality of other forms of online gambling is dependent upon the law of the states where the bettor or gambling business is located. It is left to each state to determine whether it wishes to permit such activity between its residents and an online poker business authorized by that state to accept such wagers, but online gambling that is not authorized by state law may also violate federal statutes.
The response then cited a laundry list of the usual clichés about the supposed predatory dangers and threats to national security made possible by online gambling, before concluding with a statement that the Obama White House was “open to solutions that would help guard against the use of online gambling sites as tools for conducting illegal activities or preying on unsuspecting individuals to the extent that online gambling is permitted.”
The response largely echoes sentiments expressed in the Department of Justice’s late-2011 opinion that the 1961 Wire Act addressed only sports betting and that the legality and availability of other forms of online gambling were decisions best left to individual states. All of which would suggest the huge sums various companies have spent lobbying the feds on this issue have ultimately been in vain. However, the (deliberate?) vagueness of the feds being “open to solutions” on illegal activities and consumer protection will give backers of federal online poker regulations cause for optimism (misguided though it may be). In other words, the White House response failed to definitively un-muddy the waters, and both federal proponents and their state-by-state counterparts will read into it what they want to read. But in the end, only one of these positions can be right, and the smart money is on the states.