May 20, 2012
Last fall, the Poker Players Alliance organized poker player support for an online petition to the White House advocating the legalization and regulation of online poker. On Friday, the Obama Administration posted its response, which was disappointing only to those poker players who were naive enough to believe that the online petition was something other than a silly publicity stunt on both sides. Chris Krafcik, Research Director for GamblingCompliance, asked me for my take on the response. I emailed him the following:
I don't have any profound insight to share re the Obama Administration's statement on iPoker, mostly because I think the statement is pretty much a standard political puff piece, a souped up version of a polite blow-off letter from a legislator to a constituent on an issue the legislator doesn't care about. The statement basically restates the current status of the law—federal law bans sports betting, states can authorize iPoker and other forms of iGaming, and violations of state iGaming laws may also be a violation of federal law. The statement then placates any social conservatives or law and order types by ticking off the usual laundry list of concerns—addictions, minors, fraud, and money laundering.
I think the most telling sentence of the statement is: "The Administration will continue to examine this issue and is open to solutions that would help guard against the use of online gambling sites as tools for conducting illegal activities or preying on unsuspecting individuals to the extent that online gambling is permitted." I read this statement to mean that the Administration is not actively pursuing any particular policy re iGaming or iPoker. Given the Administration's other policy priorities, combined with the fact this is an election year, I doubt the Administration has any interest at all in spending political capital on a niche issue like iPoker where there is strong social conservative resistance, no real political pressure from the President's base, and the issue has little resonance as a pivotal electoral issue either nationally or in swing states. In fact, legalizing iPoker on a national basis is probably a political negative for the President, likely to be portrayed by conservatives as another example of the President dictating social policy to the states.
In short, I think this statement is utterly inconsequential, and was intended to be so. Of course, the poker world will seize on it to support their collective delusion that iPoker legalization is a major political issue.
To be blunt, President Obama does not give a flying pig about internet poker or gambling. Nothing the President or his Administration have said or done at any point in time indicates the remotest interest in the issue near and dear to the hearts of poker players. At best, the President is not opposed to iPoker legalization, and if presented with an iPoker bill hammered out by the major casino, Indian, and law enforcement interest groups, would probably sign it (which is admittedly a major advance over the Bush Administration). But don't expect Obama or his Administration to lift a finger to push an iPoker bill through Congress.