As I said last time, I largely concur with Oade’s perspective on these bills. I also share his lack of enthusiasm for the Poker Players Alliance seemingly devoting almost all of its energies toward lobbying in favor of these bills. However, I don’t agree with everything Oade said about online poker during the show.
As he described his disfavor with the proposed IGREA and the other bills, Oade explained “I think what most online players want is the same thing I want. I want to be able to play online every day. And I don’t want it to be inconvenient. And I don’t want it to be expensive. And I don’t want to have weird things happening to me. And that’s what I want and that’s what I think most poker players want . . . . And right now that’s what we’ve got.”
All fine, until that last line.
Referring to the ease with which he has recently been able to fund his Full Tilt Poker account, Oade characterized online poker as currently satisfying all of those desires he had listed. (“If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” says Oade.) Sure, he can play every day, at least on some sites. It is convenient for him, I would imagine. And probably not too expensive, although that depends in part upon the method he tries to use to transfer funds to and from sites and the policies of the sites regarding withdrawal fees, etc.
But, come on. There have been a lot of “weird things” happening lately. And the fact that online poker’s efforts to self-regulate are not terribly reliable make it all the more likely they will continue to occur as we move forward.
The truth is, almost all online poker sites are currently regulated, although in a somewhat haphazard, patchwork way. And when we’re talking about sites that accept U.S.-players’ bets, we’re talking about what is essentially a voluntary system. Since there is no federal regulation of online gambling in the U.S., when I log on to an online poker site I’m counting on that site having some sort of voluntarily-accepted, non-U.S.-based oversight on its operations.
There are a couple of ways most online poker sites voluntarily regulate themselves. One is to be regulated by the governments of countries who do have an IGREA-like law regarding online gambling. There are some countries which in fact grant licenses to online poker sites -- Gibraltar, Malta, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. A poker site does not have to be physically located in the licensing country. For example, Bodog, headquartered in Antigua, is licensed by the U.K. In order to receive such a license, the site has to abide by a number of regulations, a lot of which resemble those broadly outlined in Frank’s proposed H.R. 2046.
The other way online poker sites can prove to customers they have some sort of oversight regulating their operations is to get a license from an independent group such as the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Again, to get such a license, the site has to abide by that group’s stated regulations. For example, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission has a long list of items -- described as “Regulations Concerning Interactive Gaming” -- which a given online gambling outfit must adhere to in order to receive the KGC seal of approval.
While the Kahnawake Gaming Commission is not the only organization that grants licenses to online gambling sites, it is by far the most popular licensing organization. Today the KGC has listed over 450 such sites among their “permit holders.”
Of course, this kind of voluntarily-invited regulation is only meaningful if the licensing body is truly independent of the sites and trustworthy. The KGC’s response to the Absolute Poker cheating scandal indicates in obvious, bold strokes just how lacking in credibility such a system can be.
The KGC’s report of the Gaming Associates’ recently-completed audit of Absolute Poker visibly demonstrates the problems with trusting the KGC to regulate online sites. For one, the report is incomplete -- as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, it clearly does not identify all of the regulations Absolute Poker failed to follow. (See Lou Krieger’s recent post for other ways the report falls short.). Secondly, the sanctions the KGC imposes are largely impotent. And, as Frank Frisina’s recent Life’s a Bluff cartoon illustrates, there are serious, unanswered questions about KGC’s independence from Absolute Poker. (See cartoon at left -- and when yr done here click the pic to visit “Life's a Bluff.”)
All of which is to say, I have little assurance I won’t “have weird things happening to me” when I play on a site whose only license comes from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. As it happens, all three of the sites I play on at present -- PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Bodog -- are licensed by the KGC. PokerStars is additionally a member of the Interactive Gaming Council, a group that does function quite like a regulatory body. (Read more here.) As I mentioned, Bodog is additionally licenced by the U.K. (Read about that here.)
And as for Full Tilt . . .
Erm. Should I be worried? Not saying I’m ready to leave Full Tilt, but it sure would be a hell of a lot more reassuring to know that if any “weird things” did happen to me, the site answered to someone besides the KGC.
(I’m not alone in having reservations about the KGC. The U.K. Gambling Commission left them off their “white list”, meaning none of them KGC-only licensed sites can advertise in the U.K.)
We’re between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want the feds to regulate online poker, but the present system of voluntarily-accepted regulation isn’t working very well, either. What, then, can be done?
Labels: *the rumble