Thoughts on the Barton Online Poker Bill

I wrote a summary of the 101 page Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011 for Poker Affiliate Solutions.  I write part time for the PAS blog.  Typically the posts I make there are based on industry news and facts.  I try to keep my opinion out of the posts I make there.  Since I have this blog I can save my opinion pieces for here.

The first point I want to make is that nobody should be getting their hopes up.  Countless times online poker bills have been introduced and countless times nothing has happened.  There is no doubt that politicians are aware now more than ever that online poker players and internet freedom groups are furious and something needs to be done.  Even if an online poker bill becomes law it would certainly be changed many times and look nothing like this bill.

The Positives

I liked how the bill called out the 2006 UIGEA has being basically ineffective.  It also called out the Department of Justice for having an opinion that differs from what the laws actually state and what courts have actually ruled.  Barton recognizes that allowing law enforcement to make up the rules as they go along is wrong and needs to be addressed.  The only way of doing this would be to make the laws very clear.  Online poker would be legal, online casinos and sports betting would be illegal.

If a bill that looks even remotely like this bill ever gets passed I think it will be a good thing for online poker players.  The first reason is that side games would be removed from all U.S. facing licensed online poker rooms.  There is no telling how many fish have blown their spending money for the week on video blackjack before even hitting the poker tables.  This should make for better games for sure.

Another reason I think this is a good bill for players is that there would be competition.  This would not be a government run online poker business like some countries have tried.  The online poker rooms would be managed by qualified brick and mortar casinos as well as companies that have experience with managing online poker rooms.  This would provide players with quite a few choices instead of a monopoly.  That should keep promotions fresh and player friendly.

I also like how this bill does not ring fence U.S. players.  Ring fencing is when players from a jurisdiction are only allowed to play their own country’s players.  This is what is happening in France and Italy and it hurts game selection and player volume.  This bill does not restrict international poker rooms such as Party Poker from getting licensed allowing U.S. players access to a large player base.

The Barton bill also makes states opt out if they do not wish to participate.  Considering how hard it can be for states to agree on anything this will make it so that more states would get involved than if states had to opt in.  I actually expect this part of the bill to change if it ever passes.  I doubt many politicians want to be known for forcing expanded gambling on their states.  There are too many states that do not allow brick and mortar poker at this time.  I do not see those states or their representatives wanting to be tricked into having to offer online poker when brick and mortar poker does not exist.

The Negatives

I do not like how the minimum age is 21.  I think 18 or 19 would be just fine.  Several states with gambling allow 18 year olds to gamble.  Lotteries are often set at 18 and horse and dog tracks are often 18 or 19.  I think the reason 21 has been set for most casinos is because it is too much hassle to allow 18-20 year olds in to gamble but not be able to drink.  This is a non issue for online poker.  Also since the bill states that poker is a game of skill and not gambling then 21 seems like too high of a minimum age for a skill game.

The bill does not mention any tax rate information other than the fact it will bring in tax revenue.  This needs to be addressed as soon as possible.  Taxing too much could cause the rake to be too high.  I like the idea of a deposit tax.  Since U.S. facing rooms are paying about 10% on deposits and a hefty fee on cashouts I cannot see how any room would be upset if they had to pay 6% of deposits to the government.  Since deposit fees would go down to 2-3% it would be the same as it is now but the government would just get the difference.  The poker rooms would save money on cashouts as well.  In the end a 6% deposit tax would actually save the rooms money.  A deposit tax would be the easiest way for accounting purposes as well.

The wording about operating a poker net cafe being a crime punishable with up to 5 years in jail seems harsh.  Does this mean if I go to a bar that has a wireless internet connection and play online poker the owner could get in trouble?  There is also an idea of renting out executive office suites to online poker players.  Would this be illegal too?  The law needs to be better defined or in my opinion dropped altogether.

Poker tracking software would be allowed under this law.  I think that entire idea needs to be revisited.  Datamining and software that tracks other player’s play should be looked at closely.  I am not against all tracking software by any means but the law needs to decide now what is and is not legal.

Overall I like the bill.  If it passed as is I would be satisfied.  I live in Nevada and I know this bill passing would only mean good things for this state.  I see a long road though for this or any online poker bill.  There are too many people that seem to be convinced that online poker money goes to terrorism and do not care that a bill like this would make that for the most part impossible.  There are also people that think any type of expanded gambling is bad, even if it does not affect them.  Hopefully some compromises can be made to make everyone happy and we can get back to playing online poker in the U.S. without having to do so in the shadows.

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