9/25/09 – The ambience at EiG may have been optimistic and even buoyant regarding the future legalization of online gambling in the United States but it is apparently not shared by all the experts.
Speaking at the International Masters of Gaming Law conference in Amsterdam this week, the respected Las Vegas-based online gambling legal expert Tony Cabot appeared pessimistic on the prospects for success of attempts to legalise online gambling and poker by Congressman Barney Frank and Senator Robert Menendez.
“Nothing is going to happen this year,” Cabot predicted. “Barney Frank has already pushed his [legislative proposal HR 2267] back, and once we get into next year we will be into an election cycle. The Democrats in particular are under a lot of stress at the moment and the last thing the Democrats want to get involved in is an unpopular fight because the Republicans would be all over it.”
Cabot assessed the chances of success for the bill at around 5 percent. “This is a move that will not come at the federal level,” he said, implying that state initiatives are more likely to succeed.
Cabot gave an overview of recent moves in California and Massachusetts to move the online gambling legalization agenda forward, but described these as having achieved ‘scant progress' so far.
Turning to the Menendez’s attempt to legalise games with an element of skill such as poker, backgammon and bridge, Cabot characterised this as ‘Harrah’s’ bill’ and commented that neither the Frank or Menendez bills had the support of veteran Nevada Senator and Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid, and had also met with varying degrees of enthusiasm from US land gambling giant companies.
“There is a lack of consensus,” he said. “The senior senator from Nevada will not budge until there is a clear consensus on the issue, and this is not present. Harrah’s want to push this hard because they own the World Series of Poker. [But] Steve Wynn… has hired lobbyists to go against it.”
If the US did legalise online gambling it was likely that operators who had never taken US bets online, whom he described as ‘clean' would be in a better position to achieve licensing. Those who had immediately exited the US market on the passing of the UIGEA “…may or may not be able to get a license depending on how this progresses”, he said.
Cabot added a new possibility to the opposition mix, too – the likelihood that large online poker firms like PokerStars and Full Tilt, which have continued to offer their services to US players in defiance of US legalization, may attempt to kill the legalization initiative, realising they stood no chance of getting licenses and would face increased legal US competition. These companies had the resources to make such a threat credible, he opined.
The legal expert raised the interesting prospect of what he referred to as an unholy coalition of cross party opposition to the legalization of online gambling.
“We have the conservative republicans and the Ralph Nader Democrats who oppose the bills – so it doesn’t even break on party lines. And one thing we know about the United States is that it is a lot easier to kill something than what it is to get something passed,” he concluded.
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