Federal lawmakers are considering two bills that would regulate online poker. They have tried to pass legislation in the past, but all efforts have failed. However, they are under much more pressure to do so now. Three states have already legalized online gambling and several others are considering legislation as well. Rep. Joe Barton said the government will need to legalize online gambling before online gambling is widespread throughout the country.

Many stakeholders agree that online gambling legislation is needed, but criticized the current legislation for catering to the needs of casino leaders. Hartley Henderson of the Off Shore Gambling Association said that lawmakers should rethink their legislation and find an approach that equally benefits everyone.

Nevada was the first state to pass a law to legalize online gambling in February. Ultimate Poker became the first site to go live and has been very profitable casino online so far. Most people are encouraged by the state of online poker in Nevada, but Henderson said the bill was clearly written to maximize profits of the casinos. New Jersey and other states have passed laws with similar provisions.

One of the concerns that Henderson raised is that most states require online gambling firms to partner with existing casinos. Many lawmakers said in no uncertain terms that this provision was added to help firms offset losses.

Another concern is the “bad actor clause” that Nevada included and other states are considering. On the surface, these provisions help protect consumers. However, Henderson and other skeptics argue that casino giants lobbied for them to prevent other competitors from participating in the online gambling market. Barton’s bill includes a similar clause that would force PokerStars out of the market even though it already invested millions of dollars to participate in the online gambling market in New Jersey.

Other casino companies are lobbying for legislation that would bar foreign companies from entering the market. Many lawmakers have listened to their feedback and may try to incorporate it into a future gambling bill.

Henderson said that a federal gambling bill will probably be passed in the near future. He doesn’t know what future legislation will entail, but said that it should be written in a way that takes everyone’s needs into consideration.


Staff - Various members of the staff at contributed to this report.