Monday, September 26, 2011

Possible Futures (Online Poker in the U.S.)

This Way / That WayI left the latest issue of Card Player magazine, the one with Phil Hellmuth on the cover (September 21, 2011, Vol. 24, No. 19), sitting on the counter. Vera Valmore, as she will sometimes do when I leave such stuff around, picked it up.

Later she remarked to me how she’d read two articles, one a feature about Todd Terry and the other on Hellmuth. As I’ve mentioned here before, Vera isn’t a poker player herself. But she has a pretty good idea of the various issues swirling around the game, including the endless legal battles over online poker, and so knew what each was referring to in their respective articles.

Vera was struck by what seemed a pretty glaring contrast between the perspectives of Terry and Hellmuth on the future of online poker in the U.S., as presented in the articles. I hadn’t read either article, but did so after her comment and realized that indeed, there is a fairly stark difference of opinion between the two pros.

The piece on Terry talks a bit about the class action lawsuit he and three others filed against Full Tilt Poker back in late June, the one filed on behalf of U.S. players. This was the first of the class action lawsuits, if you recall. Another came in August (filed on behalf of all players). Then in September there was a third one filed in Canada (for Canadian players).

In the Card Player feature, Terry notes how he gave an interview soon after Black Friday in which he was asked about the future of online poker in America. “[I] stated that I didn’t think online poker would ever be legalized in the United States,” Terry explains. “I still stand by that, but I’m less confident about it. There are many in the industry who think we are nearing something big, and I can’t say that they are wrong to think that, but personally, I don’t think the political climate will ever be right for change.”

Terry goes on to note how it isn’t just the “climate” that’s the problem here, but all of the other more pressing issues that seem to make it less likely we’ll be seeing legislators fretting over online poker anytime soon.

A few pages later comes the Hellmuth piece, which is mostly taken up with a recap of his terrific summer at the WSOP. Toward the end he’s invited by the interviewer to talk about his status as “poker’s no. 1 free agent” -- i.e., without sponsorship, currently, by an online company -- and what he thinks is to come both for himself and for online poker, generally speaking.

Hellmuth admits “I stand to gain substantially when online poker becomes regulated in the United States.” He then adds that in his view “Online poker is going to be licensed and regulated very soon. There are things happening right now that the rest of the poker world doesn’t realize. I think it’s going to happen at the federal level, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened by December.”

Certainly a lot more optimism coming from Hellmuth than Terry here. Hellmuth implies he has some sort of insider knowledge -- the kind of thing Terry is referencing, I think, when he refers to “many in the industry who think we are nearing something big.” Is it possible that Hellmuth might know something “the rest of the poker world” doesn’t?

I told Vera this kind of difference of opinion pretty much characterizes the poker world at any given moment. That is to say, there seem to exist opposing views on just about every aspect of the industry, with online poker (and its future) a prime example.

But I found myself continuing to wonder about the differing views being expressed by Terry and Hellmuth, both of whom are responding to Black Friday and its aftermath and coming up with utterly opposing forecasts for online poker in the U.S.

Who do you think is more likely on the money here, Terry or Hellmuth? And why?

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Blogger KenP said...

I can't see anything passing with litigation pending. Pols are cowards.

9/26/2011 3:53 PM  
Blogger JK said...

Interesting to hear the different viewpoints. Personally, I think online poker will become licensed & regulated, but no time soon.

Assuming nothing happens on this front before the end of the year (which is unlikely), I don't see any kind of progress happening on this issue during the presidential election year of 2012. If that's the case, the earliest a bill might pass is in 2013. Add another year for the rules and regulations to actually be written, agreed upon, and approved, and we'll be lucky to see legalized online poker in the US before sometime in 2014.

9/26/2011 3:55 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I would guess that this full tilt mess has got to set that date back a good little while myself. The fact that all these well-known public figures could run such a huge scam, loot players' funds and operate as a near ponzi scheme for several months while maintaining their website in the U.S., their gaming license, etc., pretty much says it all about where we are really at with our ability to protect consumers right now in this kind of enterprise.

9/26/2011 10:14 PM  
Blogger PokerLawyer said...

I'm no poker insider so my take is all speculation and wishful thinking.

I agree politicians are cowards and blow whichever way the wind is streaming. That said, our economy (nationwide and at the state level) needs help and gaming may be an answer. (Given everything I've learned from my foray into the poker community in the past year, however, I have to say I'm a little worried if poker and/or gaming is our economy's "answer")

It seems to me that at least some politicians are hearing from constituents that gaming should be looked into. In Texas that is certainly the case. Just today, I received a form email from a state representative. One of the issues he raised is as follows:

"Gaming in Texas

As the constitutional amendment election approaches, we've received a number of calls and emails from folks asking why they will not have the opportunity to vote on whether to allow various types of gambling in Texas. Several bills were filed last session that would have allowed different types of gaming, including allowing slot machines in racetracks, or authorizing casino gambling in resorts, but none of them were voted out of committee to allow for debate on the House floor. We anticipate another sizable budget shortfall next session, so we expect to revisit the gambling discussion, possibly with much more interest as annual revenue projections from gambling are between $1 and $2 billion. We want to know what you think about gambling in Texas. Please take this survey to share your opinion!"

The address for the survey is here.

Essentially, it is one question:

1. When it comes to gambling in Texas, which of the following do you support?

* Allow gambling in racetracks in Texas, but do not expand the footprint
* Allow gambling at resort casinos
* Allow gambling at both racetracks and resort casinos
* Do not allow the expansion of gambling

I, of course, chose option 3. We'll see.

9/27/2011 1:41 PM  

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