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Although, legalization borderline
Despite a pending federal ban on Internet gambling, the popularity of online poker continues to soar, with the number of Americans playing in online poker rooms on the rise.
Moreover, with their growing popularity, online poker rooms are taking their offerings into the mainstream, such as cable TV shows and land-based tournaments.
According to a recent survey by London-based Mintel, 12 percent of American adults visited an online casino in the past 12 months, most of which were online poker rooms. The ratio of men to women gamblers was about five to one.
American gamblers are apparently undeterred by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which effectively bans Internet gambling in the U.S. by outlawing the transfer of funds from financial institutions to gambling websites.
The UIGEA was supposed to go into effect last November, but its implementation was delayed until June 1.
New legislation, notably a bill from Rep. Barney Frank, which would repeal the UIGEA and set up a mechanism for legalizing (and taxing) online gambling has so far not found any traction in Congress.
Although Barney Frank’s bill isn’t expected to be acted upon until late 2010 or early 2011, it’s interesting to note the companies that have lobbied for and contributed funds toward its passage.
According to a report that will be released later this week, Harrah’s Entertainment spent the most money, $1.22 million, lobbying for Internet gambling during the first quarter of 2010.
The Poker Players Alliance, a grass-roots advocate for online poker, was second with $785,000.
Other big spenders were online poker companies PokerStars and Betfair US.
Even though Harrah’s has lined up on the side of some form of legal online gambling, the issue is a tough one for many land-based operators.
"The elephant in the room is Internet poker and Internet gaming," said Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga tribe, which operates one of California’s largest casinos. "Most tribes are on the fence with this thing, including my tribe."
Indeed, the tribes in California seem to be split on the issue. A proposal in Sacramento last year by Morongo, a Southern California tribe, to have tribal casinos and commercial card clubs join forces to offer online poker in California didn’t go anywhere, but that isn’t expected to be the end of the movement.
Commercial casinos seem to have taken a "wait and see" stance, with the American Gaming Association officially taking a "neutral" stance toward Internet gambling, which is actually an improvement from its original negative position toward off-shore operators.
Here is the AGA’s official position on Internet gambling: "Historically, AGA members have questioned the adequacy of technological safeguards to prevent money laundering, underage gambling and participation by residents of jurisdictions where it is deemed illegal. After considerable study, however, our concerns about technology have been eliminated by advancements in the field, and the AGA believes that the technology now exists to properly regulate Internet gambling with appropriate law enforcement oversight and to provide appropriate consumer protections for individuals gambling online. However, the AGA also believes that existing laws do not adequately protect the millions of Americans who gamble online every day.
Thus, the AGA acknowledges that a properly regulated legal framework for Internet gambling is the best way to protect consumers. The AGA also believes that online gambling operators (commercial casinos) and suppliers should be held to the same level of probity to which AGA members adhere in their traditional land-based operations."
Regardless of the current regulatory minefield, online poker rooms continue to make headway into the American mainstream.
PokerStars, for instance, recently concluded its first ever North American Poker Tour, which had tournament stops in Las Vegas (The Venetian Hotel & Casino) and Connecticut (Mohegan Sun).
PokerStars also sponsors land-based tournaments in Europe, South America, the Caribbean, Asia and Australia.
And starting this month, PokerStars will produce a TV show filmed in Las Vegas and broadcast on Fox TV affiliates beginning on June 14.
The show is called "The Big Game," and will feature the world’s best poker pros playing alongside top amateurs, plus one "Loose Cannon," a qualifier from PokerStars.net (the company’s non-cash website).
The Loose Cannon will be staked with $100,000 with which to take on the best players in the game.
The TV show will include other segments, such as interviews with poker professionals and a profile of their varied lifestyles.
Other off-shore poker parlors, such as Full Tilt and UB.net and GR88.com have also made inroads into American pocketbooks. Most of them feature tournaments that offer satellite events for major tournaments such as the World Series, and UB.net even has a TV show of its own, Poker2Nite, which is broadcast regularly on the Versus network.
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