Tuesday, February 17, 2015

“What the Hail?” Says Caesars, Changes Bad Actor Stance

Been reading around some regarding the recent news that Caesars has changed course in a notable way regarding its stance toward PokerStars being allowed back into the U.S. (in those states that would have ‘em, now or later).

It was late last Friday that the story first began to circulate, with Chris Krafcik tweeting that Caesars Executive VP Jan Jones Blackhurst had told him Amaya/PokerStars “should be considered for legalization in the U.S.” The statement suggests a change of opinion from Caesars regarding the inclusion of “bad actor clauses” in online poker legislation, something they had been in favor of previously.

Caesars has lobbied pretty hard over the years for those clauses that would close out online poker entities that served U.S. customers during that post-UIGEA, pre-Black Friday period (October 2006-April 2011), making them either unable to get licensed and regulated or force them to wait several years before becoming potentially eligible to do so.

Indeed, the whole “bad actor” issue was more or less all about PokerStars, currently the world’s biggest online poker site by eightfold (or more) over its nearest challenger. Caesars (and others) didn’t want such a formidable competitor back in the U.S. once the games began to be dealt again, and so did all they could to help keep that from happening.

But now -- not long after Caesars’ largest operating unit has declared bankruptcy and amid other financial woes and restructuring of debt -- they’re suddenly for Amaya/PokerStars. A further indication of the new position came in the form of Caesars’ partner in California the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians making known their support of a couple of current bills in the state, including their own similar change of heart regarding so-called “bad actors.”

Krafcik wrote up the story of Caesars’ newfound stance over at Gambling Compliance, although the piece sits behind a paywall. You can read more about it all at PokerNews and over at Online Poker Report.

The PN story includes the further quote from Blackhurst to Krafcik that Caesars now intends “to focus on where our opposition really lies, and clearly it’s not Amaya and PokerStars” whom they now consider “are a strong ally in the space.” Amaya Head of Corporate Communications Eric Hollreiser also told PN that from their side they “will work closely with Caesars to promote the US online gaming industry and support responsible legislation at the state and federal levels.”

Caesars Interactive Entertainment’s WSOP.com sites are attracting greater attention though still boast very modest traffic since opening up in Nevada and New Jersey in late 2013. Caesars’ change from considering PokerStars as an antagonist to now considering them an “ally” necessarily invites a lot of speculation regarding what might happen in various states, as well as thoughts to what could come well down the road from such an alliance.

There’s a lot that remains uncertain, though, when it comes to guessing what all this might mean going forward -- or even right now. Generally speaking, it does seem a potential positive, at least insofar as it appears to lessen some of the in-fighting among those on the pro-online poker side of things. Of course, that situation has already had a deep and lasting effect on Online Poker 2.0 in the U.S., including positioning proponents of online poker well behind the hard-charging Adelson-backed machine working the other side.

Last Friday was the 13th, the day this news broke. Recalls another Friday the 13th in online poker history, the one on which then-president George W. Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 into law. Meanwhile, we all know the Ides of March comes on the 15th, but did you realize the Ides of February is the 13th?

Like I say, it seems like positive news. But I’m wondering... should anyone beware?

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