Is U.S. poised to go online?

Oct 10, 2006 3:47 AM

"I could almost imagine Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist working behind enemy lines on behalf of the Internet poker industry."

This was the view of a veteran poker player who has already proven himself in both boardrooms and cardrooms over the years.

"Don’t mention my name," he said, "but can you imagine a more effective strategy for putting a spotlight on this issue and jump-starting the kind of discussion that will eventually bring some big changes?"

Those big changes could ultimately speed the entry of American companies into the big business of Internet poker.

"The fact is, common sense will eventually prevail because people like to play poker. They always have," the player/executive said.

He wondered if both Terry Lanni and Gary Loveman, the heads of MGM and Harrah’s, respectively, might have quietly applauded the move by Frist to attach the amendment that would torpedo the mechanism for funding Internet accounts to a non-related port security bill.

Sources within both Harrah’s and MGM have previously hinted at a strong interest in the Internet poker business.

The Frist legislation is not the end, my source argued. Rather, it is the first step toward a fresh start that welcomes American companies.

Kind of like the way Steve Wynn had to tear down the Desert Inn so he could build Wynn Las Vegas.

It will be many months, if ever, before rules are drafted and the Frist legislation implemented. There’s a guarantee of suits being filed to test the constitutionality of the legislation.

The feds, in the meantime, are not going to invest resources enforcing it as thousands of poker players respond to the call to arms and become the political activists they never were before.

The scene brings back the lessons of Prohibition and the much more recent years when California Indian tribes were operating thousands of slots that were largely untouched by federal authorities who recognized the on-going evolution of laws and the attitudes behind them.

"This is all about politics," my poker-playing friend said of the proposal engineered by Frist who is striving to satisfy his conservative base. "If Frist really wants to shut down poker then he is probably already kicking himself for letting this happen the way it did."