Monday, October 02, 2006

Congress Drawing Dead When it Comes to Poker

Within the next few days or weeks, President Bush will sign The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law. This law is the U.S. government’s attempt to stop the prevalence of online gambling, including online poker. Already, corporations who run these gaming sites have seen their share price tumble on the London markets.

Online gambling, and particularly online poker, has long existed in a grey area of the law. While it is illegal to run an online casino or poker room from within the U.S., it has never been explicitly illegal for American citizens to play at online sites based offshore. This law does nothing to officially criminalize online wagering. But it does attempt to cut off the money by banning American financial institutions from transferring money to-and-from gaming sites.

The law is strong enough to have already prompted one of the largest poker rooms,, to announce it will bar American players once the bill is signed into law. Other sites will likely follow suit, although many have announced they are staying pat for the moment. After all, online poker rakes in billions of dollars a year and the poker world is adamant that poker is not gambling. It’s a game of skill.

Now for the full disclosure. I’m a poker player. I play recreationally but I take the game seriously and have spent many hours studying and practicing strategies. It is, without a doubt, a game of skill. Yes, there is a luck component, but playing well is all about understanding the mathematic probabilities and human impulses that comprise “luck” and using that information to maximize profit.

If you play well, you will win money over the long run. In fact, so many people make a living playing poker that the IRS recognizes “poker player” as a legitimate profession.

In a perfect world, Congress would figure out a way to legalize online poker, regulate the industry and bring in tons of tax dollars. But Congress, particularly this Congress, is not keen on studying matters and acting reasonably. Nope, gambling is “bad” so therefore it needs to be banned – never mind that most states have some form of legalized gambling, including everything from the lotto to Keno to horse tracks to full-blown casinos.

Banning online poker is at best shortsighted and at worst blatant pandering. It’s not a threat to the nation’s well-being and you’re not going to keep the money from finding its way to the poker rooms. All this bill achieves is to cast an aura of disrespectability over a profession that had just recently crawled out of its smoky hole (thanks to the popularity of poker on TV).

I’d hate to see talented poker players never try the sport because our government is throwing up useless roadblocks. I personally do not like playing poker online. But a lot of people do enjoy it as a harmless recreation. And many others make a living or supplement their income through online play.

I say don’t ban it. Legalize it. Regulate it. And tax it. But then our representatives couldn’t get on their high horse and claim to be protecting our values.


Blogger reader_iam said...

Yay! You're back!

Not a gambler myself, but I can say that the posts here are a sure bet.

: )

12:46 AM  
Blogger Eric Bergen said...

There is hope! It appears that outlawing online gambling violates the US agreements with the WTO. We better get a Democrat in office soon.

You can sign the petition on my site

9:05 AM  

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