A future in which online poker is legalized and regulated is the ultimate objective of the Poker Players Alliance. It's a common goal that has famous poker professionals and amateurs alike making trips to Washington D.C. to meet with their congressmen.
This future seems closer than ever, yet still so far away. The cause has built momentum, but the window for change this year is closing quickly, if not just waiting to be locked. However, the introduction of legislation by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has shed more of a light on what the online poker world will look like if this goal is finally reached.
Site shakeup: It will be interesting to see who the market leaders are after legalization. Party Poker is likely to return to the U.S., but will American players forgive what was once the world's No. 1 site for abandoning them in the first place? Harrah's, the largest casino operator and owner of the World Series of Poker, is likely to enter the online market in a big way, but whether it offers the incentives and customer service of existing sites remains to be seen. Unexpected contenders for market share will certainly arise. As for the current industry leaders, PokerStars and Full Tilt, one has to wonder whether they will have difficulty acquiring a license in the U.S. after years of operating over objections from the Justice Department. Assuming that they do get licenses, one has to wonder whether they will retain their top spots against some heavyweight competition.
Age adjustment: The age requirement to play poker in a U.S. casino is 21 years old, so it only makes sense that this would be the minimum age set by the U.S. government for playing Internet poker. This would be an end of an era for young guns who amass a fortune playing online before they are even allowed to play in the World Series of Poker. Although surely some players will find a way around the requirement — there is no one to check identification in the home — expect the rule to be enforced better than the 18-year-old age requirement currently imposed by poker sites. The days when a teenager decides between college and online poker will come to an end.
More taxes: The bills have made it apparent that taxes will be paid not only on winnings but on all deposits, though there is hope that these extra taxes will be absorbed by the sites and not be passed on to the players. As for players not reporting their online poker income or holding back on winnings not withdrawn, that will no longer be an option. The IRS will know exactly what you won or lost on the virtual felt — and how old you are. Someone will have to provide a social security number for tax purposes!
Processors change: Moving money to and from the poker sites will most certainly be faster. There will be no more need to wait on paper checks. Not only is Neteller, or Neovia as it's now known, likely to return to the U.S. market but so is PayPal. The largest Internet processor in the world, PayPal abandoned the Internet gaming market in 2002. However, PayPal recently moved back into the online gaming sector — though still excluding the U.S. — by partnering with Neovia. Envision clicking the withdrawal button on your poker account and using the money to make a purchase at eBay or at a store with your PayPal account.
Settling disputes: Until now, poker sites have been their own judge and jury when it comes to accusations of cheating. If a site said you cheated and confiscated your account, you had little recourse. Two players who were accused by Full Tilt of using bots had their accounts closed recently but they took the unorthodox step of filing a suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in a desperate attempt to recoup their money. If the U.S. legalizes and regulates online poker, it will undoubtedly create a department that will settle disputes between players and poker sites, providing an independent arbitrator that will require that sites prove their allegations.
Poker by state: While legalizing online poker will make things easier for poker players in most of the country, the proposed legislation shows that it is almost guaranteed that states will be permitted to opt out of the program. In opt-out states, it will be more difficult to play poker than it is now. Fortunately, it's not that hard to move from Washington to California if playing online poker is a priority.
Some of these changes will be accepted with open arms and others will anger some people in the online poker community. The bottom line is that legalization and regulation will legitimize the industry. No longer will be there be worries of the DOJ seizing withdrawals or sites leaving the U.S. market, and that piece of mind is most important of all.
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