Washington D.C. stalling on legalizing internet poker

Aug 14, 2012 3:07 AM

Let’s call it the little bit at a time approach.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman finds himself leaning toward the belief this is the path Internet poker will take to eventual widespread legalization.

There’s no hiding his disappointment at the inability of Congress to take a big picture approach, with legislation impacting the entire U.S., but the facts, Loveman concedes, speak for themselves and poker proponents will happily take what they can get.

Top casino company officials have never wanted a hodge-podge of conflicting efforts to regulate what is expected to become a multi-billion-dollar industry.

But it may be that this is what they are going to get.

As Loveman was recently telling analysts, whatever comes out of Washington ultimately takes an act of Congress, and Internet legislation will simply not move forward at a time when the House and Senate are not acting on much of anything except the name-calling associated with a presidential election year.

“There are a number of pressing issues before Congress,” Loveman explained. “The fiscal cliff being the most serious of these, and Congress has been unable to act even on these fundamental issues.”

Which explains why Caesars is now “much more active in the state-by-state process than we have been historically. We expect to be the early adopters in a state-by-state process.”

Michael Gaughan months ago lamented the inaction of Congress, saying, “It may have missed the chance” to stamp this issue with federal action. A variety of interests – lotteries and Indian casinos to name a couple – have had some success with arguments that Internet poker should be a states’ rights issue.

It does not take big numbers to stop a controversial issue long enough to put it off until next year or whenever. And that brings casino interests to one of the year’s biggest ironies, the possibility that Nevada-style sports wagering may be legal outside Nevada before the first hand of Internet poker is dealt.

It all depends on the success of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s commitment to making sports wagers a fact of life in Atlantic City casinos sometime before the end of the year.

The governor and his lawyers expect to challenge the constitutionality of a 1992 action known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection ACT (PASPA) that has so far limited wide-open sports wagering to Nevada.

The major sports leagues last week filed federal court actions aimed at preventing this, citing alleged violations of the 1992 action that limited sports betting to the four states where it existed in any form and offered New Jersey an opportunity for approving it that was never exercised.

But PASPA is now getting the kind of attention from sharp-eyed legal experts who mostly greeted its arrival two decades ago with a big yawn. Few people paid serious attention in 1991 to the Department of Justice recommending against its adoption by Congress.

“If this case ever reaches the Supreme Court,” a senior Las Vegas gaming official assured me last week, I don’t see how the court can do anything except declare it (PASPA) unconstitutional.”

It’s easy to imagine a showdown similar to the one seen in Florida when a federal court ruled that the Hard Rock casinos owned by the Seminoles in Florida could not install table games. The tribe took a try-and-stop-us attitude as the blackjack games, etc., remained on casino floors.

I can imagine Christie practicing his “make my day” attitude in front of a mirror (he’s gotta get the sneer just right) as Atlantic City casinos, which can certainly use new business, wait to see how serious the governor may be about his “try and stop me” approach.

In the meantime, widespread Internet poker involving more than the tiny populations of Nevada and Delaware inches toward eventual legalization.

Which wagering opportunity will get out of the gate first? It’s a question with multi-billion-dollar potential.