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February 23, 2012

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody has a clue as to when – or if – a federal law overturning the UIGEA and legalizing online poker will come into existence. Of course, that doesn’t stop people from all corners of the industry from speculating on what the possible law may or may not do, and on who will benefit from it the most should it be approved and signed by the president.

The latest name to weigh in on a potential bill legalizing online poker is MGM CEO Jim Murren, who thinks Congress will approve a bill before the end of 2012. While I like his optimism, I have a hard time believing that the most divided Congress in recent history will agree to pass a bill that social conservatives clearly hate in the middle of an election year.

That said, recent legislative actions on the state level may force Congress to take up an online poker bill sooner than it would like. In the past week, Iowa has joined Nevada and become the second state to approve legislation approving intrastate online poker. California, which has been studying online poker legislation for a while now, is likely to keep moving forward (albeit slowly) while recent news reports suggest that Mississippi and Massachusetts are also looking at legal online poker as a way to help fill their state coffers.

I don’t think you can classify these state actions as a surge or a groundswell of support for online poker, but they’re definitely a signal that at least some government officials have begun to realize that prohibiting people from playing poker online makes less sense than creating a regulated environment where people can play safely. In exchange for this enlightened attitude, the regulating authorities collect some much-needed tax revenue. It’s a classic win-win situation.

So why are the states moving forward when the federal government isn’t? Is it because state regulators are smarter than their counterparts in Washington? I doubt it. Instead, I think they’re willingness to consider legalizing online poker stems from something that Washington sorely lacks at the moment. Common sense.

We all know that not everyone is in favor of legalizing online poker. Some people of have moral or ethical objections to “gambling.” Others may be beholden to constituents or special interests that have their own reason to oppose legalized online poker. But, what these legislators do have in common is a willingness to debate the issue and to compromise in order to reach a solution that they believe is best for every one involved. Players. Site operators. Tax payers. Special interest groups. You name it.

Washington can’t – or won’t – do this. Political gridlock and brinksmanship is the name of the game in DC nowadays, with legislators more concerned about securing a political majority and their own re-elections. Screw what’s good for the country or what their constituents may want. It’s every man and political party for themselves. The problem is, while Washington is fucking around, individual states are moving forward creating a patchwork of rules and regulations where some people are allowed to play online poker while others living just a few miles away cannot. That’s not fair and it’s not good.

Like I said earlier, no one knows when we may actually see a federal law legalizing online poker, and no one knows exactly what that law may look like when it’s finally approved. But, the one thing I can say with a fair degree of certainty is that the more states that address this issue on their own, the more likely it is that Washington will have to step in with a unifying and over-arching federal law.


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