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LEGALISED ONLINE POKER IN FLORIDA BY MID-YEAR
Posted 2/28/11 : Abruzzo Bill will be debated in state Assemby session starting on March 8
Florida politician Joseph Abruzzo's attempt to introduce a bill legalising intrastate online poker is likely to be debated in the next session of the state Assembly, which kicks off on March 8. And if it is successful, Florida could have legalised online poker in the law books as early as July 1st, local media is currently suggesting.
Florida is facing a $4 billion budget deficit, and lawmakers are likely to have an appetite for strictly controlled internet poker with the potential to raise significant tax revenues.
California and New Jersey are also well-advanced with online gambling legislative moves, and Iowa is about to consider a similar strategy.
In Florida, Abruzzo's bill proposes that licensed dog and horse tracks and jai-alai frontons be permitted to create portals to legal online poker rooms. The state would get 10 percent of each card room's revenues, the same amount it gets now from live poker rooms.
"We want to legalize it, regulate it and bring the revenue to Florida," said Representative Abruzzo, a Democrat representing the Wellington district, this week. "To me it's common sense to protect our players."
Abruzzo's bill suggests that up to three sites would contract with the state as a hub, and websites of Florida's 23 pari-mutuels' with card rooms would act as portals. Players would have to navigate to one of the websites to play with a pool of other Florida players. The company that runs the hubs would take a rake from each pot and give it to the card rooms.
Daniel Francati, manager of the Daytona Beach Kennel Club & Poker Room, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that he is for the proposal and is eager to benefit from a huge market.
"I think it'll help take Internet players and try to convert them into brick-and-mortar players," Francati said, comparing it to how a newspaper can use its website to lure readers to the print version. "You always have a question when people are playing online for money," he said. "How do you know they're paying if it isn't regulated?"
Francati has no problem with competing with offshore companies...provided they make commitments to invest in the state.
"The other guys want to have their cake and eat it," he said. "They don't pay taxes, have no employees -- if they want to play they should have an investment in the state of Florida."
The newspaper reports that a Senate committee report last month estimated net revenue of almost $37 million by the third year of regulated internet poker.
Abruzzo said a gaming company that studied the issue estimated even more revenue. There are 900,000 Floridians registered to play online poker, and at least a third of them play for money, he claimed.
Abruzzo's proposal, like those in California and New Jersey, would appear to exclude global internet poker giants like Full Tilt and Pokerstars, giving exclusivity to land operations that are already licensed by the state.
Although this protective approach is hardly good news for established offshore sites like Pokerstars, the internet poker giant is unlikely to starve - an independent survey in 2009 reported that 10 million Americans play online poker for money.
Recent Pokerscout.com independent stats showed that on a typical Friday evening Pokerstars can have over 263,000 players online, with almost 45,000 playing cash games.
Commenting on the Florida moves in a statement applicable also to California and New Jersey, John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance said: "What we believe is the opportunity should be available to those who qualify to try to get regulated, and if regulators decide that they're the best ones to offer services, they should be able to offer it. It shouldn't be a decision made in the legislature."
Pappas pointed out to the Daytona Beach News-Journal that confining action within a state reduced player liquidity and the chance for Florida players to compete against a wider field and for bigger pots.
He was supported by Randy Kasper of the Poker Players International agency: "Why would I as a professional poker player even stay in the state of Florida?" he said. "I want to go to where my $1,000 will be $35,000 - or even $100,000."
In a recent comment, Abruzzo said that he was considering raising the state's cut to 20 percent instead of his originally envisaged 10 percent. He is pleased with the good fortune connotations of the number assigned to his proposal in the Florida Legislature - 77.
"I think it's a very good omen," Abruzzo said.
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