With the Republican victories in Congress making it look less likely that a federal online poker bill will pass in the next two years, legislation at the state level could become more of a focus.
For the past few years, the Poker Players Alliance has pushed federal legislation as the best outcome for its poker-playing members while, for the most part, staying out of the state-level attempts at legislation. At the same time, industry trade associations such as the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association and Poker Voters of America have concentrated on pushing for state legislation.
"It's no secret we've thought for a few years now that it would really be tough sledding for a federal bill," said Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of iMEGA. "We made our bet down at the state level. I think, in wake of this election, really nothing changed in that regard. The short odds got shorter as far as a federal bill is concerned."
The PPA has begun strengthening at the state level, asking its state directors to become more active in communicating with and organizing members in their states.
John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, said this move is being done because whether or not poker ends up being licensed and regulated in a federal bill or individual state bills, it will ultimately come down to state-by-state battles to determine which states want to be included. He said the PPA, however, may be more open to putting effort on state legislation in the future. Thus far, New Jersey, California and Florida have shown the most interest in moving online poker legislation.
Brennan would appreciate the help. He thinks that the financial incentive of licensing and regulating Internet poker will have a much greater impact on state-level politicians than those on the federal level. When talking about $2 billion annually, it seems like a lot of money. To the federal government, however, it's just a drop in the bucket, especially in New Jersey where iMEGA is focusing its efforts. The gaming dollars, coupled with proposed job creation and chance to become the host jurisdiction in the U.S. for this industry has to be enticing.
"I would love to have federal legislation, but thus far there hasn't been the will amongst federal legislators to move this beyond the committee level," Brennan said. "So you have to start looking at where we can advance. Does it take longer to go by a state-by-state basis? Yeah. But do we get progress? Potentially, yeah. Should we be pursuing both avenues? Yeah. I fully expect the PPA and others to continue to seek a federal path, and they will have my full support. But the PPA has a lot of boots on the ground, and I think we can potentially be a very effective partner if they chose to be on the state level. I don't necessarily think if they supported a state-level initiative, that it would undercut federal efforts."
Pappas said the PPA will continue to focus on federal legislation but keep an eye on developments at the state level for legislation the PPA could support. Brennan, though coming from the standpoint of an industry representative, said he would be open to working with the PPA on New Jersey legislation. After all, he said, an industry can't succeed without happy customers.
"We still have a lot of concerns going state by state," Pappas said. "Will there be a time when the PPA can get behind a state proposal? Yes, I think there will be. But it has to be legislation for players and, right now, none of the legislation really has players in mind."
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