Becky’s Affiliated: A word about US online poker regulation with A.G. Burnett, Nevada State Gaming Control Board

The WSOP has just wrapped up in Vegas until the ‘November Nine’ reconvene in three months to battle it out for the coveted bracelet.  The poker industry has had their eyes on Nevada lately for not only WSOP related activity, but also because the first regulated online poker site in America to accept real money bets, Ultimate Poker, has officially opened their doors to the state’s population.

Becky’s Affiliated: A word about US online poker regulation with A.G. Burnett, Nevada State Gaming Control BoardUltimate Poker is the first of many online poker sites to attempt regulated real money play in the United States and the industry watches from the sidelines to see how Ultimate Poker fares in a relatively limited marketplace.

It is no secret the Nevada regulators themselves are still learning how to navigate successfully in the online gambling arena and there are authorities such as I. Nelson Rose who have said there’s a good chance the current Nevada system will fail.  To get an update on what’s actually happening in Nevada with respect to online poker, I went straight into the lion’s den and caught up with A.G. Burnett, Chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board.

The first question I had for Burnett was how things have been going since Ultimate Poker has started accepting real money play in Nevada.

Things have been going well”, he said.  “We have worked closely with Ultimate to immediately address any issues that have arisen.  In addition, the Gaming Control Board has posted information on our website that will hopefully direct patrons to the right place for issues they feel rise to the level of a “patron dispute” as dictated by Nevada law, or are of a more technical nature.  I have to say that I am extremely satisfied with the level of communication I have had with Ultimate.  People like Tobin Prior have called me at all hours of the day or night to either inform us of issues or to indicate how they have addressed issues.  Further, I am happy that none of the issues were staggering or controversial in nature, such that we would consider pulling back from this burgeoning industry in Nevada.  All of the issues have been of a minor nature”.

Sounds like constant communication between the online poker operator and the Nevada regulator is key and the industry should keep this in mind as other states in the US start to regulate.  It also sounds like Burnett is expecting more and more online poker states to come to the state of Nevada and that it would be a good thing for the online poker economy.

“I have high hopes that other entrants to the market can increase competition and excitement, and that different products will enhance players’ experiences online”, he said.

As we know Nevada is home to a number of big name casinos with poker rooms and the state hosts the biggest and most famous poker tournament in the world, the WSOP.  Burnett is hopeful that bringing online poker regulation into the state will also bring value to the existing land based poker businesses.

“My hope is that [online poker] can add synergies to the land-based casinos in Nevada, and their efforts to enhance live poker, especially in terms of exciting poker tournaments.  Chris Moneymaker, for example, started out as an online player and make his way all the way to the top.  There are more out there like him.  Right now they need to come to Nevada to realize those possibilities”, he said.

The example of Moneymaker is a great one and I agree with Burnett that there are more poker enthusiasts out there like him.

On the other hand, there are people who are not fans of online poker and one of them in particular is incredibly rich, powerful and influential.  Sheldon Adelson’s recent attack against online poker includes claims that poker is not skill based, that its one of the most addictive games and that online gambling is a “toxin that good people should resist”, as stated in Adelson’s recent Forbes op-ed.

Seeing as Adelson has a major stake in the gambling industry in Nevada, I dared to ask Burnett what is reaction was to Adelson’s fiery comments.  “I have not talked with Mr. Adelson about his claims or his concerns, but I certainly respect his thoughts”, he said.  “Poker has been around since the West was won, so I cannot dispute its popularity and the excitement it brings”.

Burnett went on to explain that the stringent regulations in Nevada should hopefully alleviate some of the concerns that Adelson has expressed regarding underage and problem gambling. “I think the hope the Board and Commission have is that [online poker] is regulated in Nevada in the same way we regulate land-based casinos:  We want to regulate in order to ensure safety, patron protection, along with game and operator integrity”, Burnett said.

When it comes to regulation of online gambling within Nevada and the United States, there are many more challenges than just Sheldon Adelson.  At present the federal and state-by-state regulatory landscape is very gray with a lot of questions and concerns still lingering unanswered.  With that in mind, I asked Burnett what he thinks the future holds for the online poker industry in the United States.

“Right now, unless a federal bill clears things up or takes things another direction, states will go piece by piece in terms of legalization and regulation.  Each state has a different philosophy regarding those subjects.  Tribes may take a similar course, leading to more disparity in the industry.  But the question will eventually concern liquidity and possible compacting.  Will there be a network of states that band together to enhance liquidity?  Will there be several networks?  Will some states stand alone?  What is best for the player?  Unfortunately, all these things are now murky, and in Nevada at least, we don’t like “murky.”  We want things clear and concise.  We want things as black and white as possible.  When things are clear, good regulation can occur.  When things are grey, confusion reigns”.