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Gambling in the Gray

The unregulated world of online poker may have to go legit or go bust
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Paul Giamatti, January/February 2011

(continued from page 2)

In Las Vegas, where executives behind brick-and-mortar casinos initially feared that a regulated form of online poker (and the broader casino gambling that may follow) would eat into their profits, the tide has turned. Harrah’s already has a legal online poker site in Europe. It ties into the casino’s World Series of Poker franchise. Resort and real estate developer Steve Wynn has softened up on the possibility, and Alan Feldman, spokesman for MGM Resorts International (which counts Bellagio,
Mirage, and MGM Grand among its holdings), sounds enthusiastic about the possibilities, albeit on terms that suit MGM particularly well. “One of the most important issues is the regulatory threshold,” says Feldman, referring to the requirements for companies that get licensed to run the sites. “We think there should be a strict standard. You put in entities that have proven track records in regulated gaming and do it in big ways.” So the MGM stance is that existing, major casino operators in heavily regulated states should be the ones that get licensed for online poker.

Though this sounds reasonable, Papaian sees it as something of a worse case scenario, fueled by internationally known casinos injecting their rewards programs into online poker and capitalizing on big databases of gamblers. “I don’t want Nevada coming into California,” says Papaian who is rallying for online poker to remain an intrastate operation there. “Forty-percent of Nevada’s casino revenue already comes from California. They’ll poach business from the most populous state in the country.”

From the player’s perspective, of course, the best outcome is for online poker to be legalized across the nation, for many licenses to be issued and for Darwin’s Law to do the rest. Sites will be forced to compete; the best among them will draw the most business and maintain the most liquidity. Those entities will thrive, and the others, well, they will go the way of bust-out poker practitioners everywhere.

First, though, we have to wait for congress to focus on poker, a game that has a storied history in America and more of an outlaw status than might be warranted. As Lee Rousso aptly puts it, “I miss playing poker. Everybody tells me that it will eventually be legalized and regulated. But here’s the big question: How long is eventually?” v

Michael Kaplan is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Alan Fuller March 15, 2011 4:27pm ET

The assertion that these sites are unregulated is false; all are based in countries that have laws in place to protect the players (to some degree). Also, the stigma of poker, a skill game, compared to the respectable, hit-by-lightning type odds of government run lotteries reeks of self-serving greed and political spin. By all means regulate and tax it but on a level playing field. The casinos are 10 years behind most big sites in terms of experience in a very different market place and should not be gifted a monopoly on an industry they have done everything to suppress. As it is, thank god I don't live in the state where a 5/10 cent poker game is regarded to be as dangerous as a knife fight.

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