Each day I wake up and write about poker pros toiling long hours at the World Series of Poker or some poker tournament around the world. But that isn't reality for most of you reading this. We don't travel the world playing live poker for hundreds of thousands of dollars. At least I don't. I'm an amateur U.S.-based internet poker player. I've always been that and I like it that way. I don't want playing poker to take over my life, nor do I want it to disappear completely like it has for the last ten weeks.
I work for a living (if you can call writing all day about poker a living) and I enjoy playing online poker at my convenience when I find some down time. I enjoy the flexibility to play at micro-limits or whatever my online bankroll allows (i.e using responsible bankroll management so I never have to re-deposit). I like wearing what I want, making whatever gesture I want, listening to whatever music I like, while eating or drinking what I like as I play. I don't want to drive to a casino, deal with people and staff I don't want to deal with, and play slow live poker. I get my socializing in away from the poker table where I don't feel the added pressure of winning or losing money to strangers or especially to my friends.
On Friday, I learned that the latest and most positive sounding attempt to return me to playing online poker again was initiated. Rep. Barton (R-Tex.) introduced the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011. The number that jumped out at me and created the inspiration for this blog was Barton's call for a 180 day period, once signed by the president, for the three government agencies (i.e. Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) tasked with regulating and enforcing federal gambling policy to complete their amendments and prescribe final regulations before licensing begins. So while I understand that passing the bill through congress and having it signed by the president could take 6 weeks, 6 months or never happen at all, if/when it's passed the soonest that new poker sites could be licensed would be 180 days later.
Now let's take that 180 days figure and convert it into degrees. Starting from the point on a metaphorical "circle of your ability to play online poker", you navigate exactly half-way around the circle to the opposite side of the circle. You are now back on the same plane (i.e. being able to play poker) but your perspective and relative position has change dramatically. That is the metaphor I am creating to describe the new environment that U.S. online poker player will find ourselves.
While, if successful, the Barton bill will make online poker fully legal, licensed and regulated, it will not be the same online poker that we've known over the last few years. According to the bill in its present draft status, which will likely see some revisions as it makes its way through Congress, here are some of the changes to which we will need to adjust.
1. Online poker will no longer be a global game - Although not explicitly banned as in the Reid Bill, it is presumed that in order to pass Congress U.S. poker players will be segregated from the former fairly open world pool of players that we've become accustomed to playing. No longer will there be country flags flying amongst our tournament and cash game opponents. Our competition will be focused on domestic opponents exclusively, missing out on the richness of style and experience that comes with playing against players from across the globe.
2. Individual states can opt out - This will open up a whole new battleground where each of the 50 states must decide for themselves if online poker is to be allowed for their residents. States like Washington who have already made it illegal may maintain that stance despite the new legislative environment. Individual state populations will have to wrestle with the issue, although I suspect that federal regulation and the opportunity for increased revenue possibilities will sway most states if state's concerns are managed.
3. Cheating opportunities should be lessened - While this is an area that hasn't yet been defined closely, the goal is to create an industry wide higher threshold of what constitutes cheating. The plan is to incorporate significant fines for violators with the goal to remove issues of bots and collusion. Issues like HUD's, special poker software, data-mining and tracking software aren't explicitly detailed in the legislation yet. A higher standard to combat cheating would be a big positive restoring confidence to many fearful and concerned players, but there are still many gray areas that need to be addressed to fully remove the specter of cheating from online poker.
4. Big established gaming companies will own and run the new sites - Gone are the days of unknown poker rooms, skins, and start ups with an unproven history offering online poker. The initial licensed poker sites will be run by large gaming entities that are already well established in the U.S. (i.e. Caesars, MGM etc.). After the first two/three years, the requirements for licensing can be amended to allow for smaller or less established entities to be licensed. While the creativity, innovation and flexibility coming from these larger corporations creating poker sites might be less than we've come to expect, their bigger size and financial stability along with greater overall safety and security should be a boon to all players.
5. No one under 21 can play online poker - Online poker has always been fueled by a youthful core of under 21-year-old players, who some might argue have been most adept at taking advantage of the online dynamics like speed, dexterity, concentration and stamina involved in many hours of mass tabling online. Many of today's most successful poker players honed their skills and developed their games well before their 21st birthday. At this point, I'm not sure how effectively the new regulations will be able to enforce the minimum age of 21 provision, but there are already specifications in the bill that when caught, underage players would not be able to collect any winning and yet be responsible for any losses. If effectively blocked, removing all players under 21 from the player pool could significantly affect current play and damage prospects for developing future U.S. talent on a similar pattern as has been in place since the Moneymaker effect.
6. Problem gambler self-exclusion strengthened - For the minority of players that have trouble controlling their play, the bill will allow players to self-exclude themselves for various time periods, going so far as to create a master list for those who choose that would excluded them from all licensed sites at once.
7. More American gamblers and players playing poker - As the only legislated and regulated form of online gambling, poker should get a large boost from all types of American gamblers who will look to avoid tougher policing of other forms of online gambling while embracing the heavily promoted new "sport of gamblers.". Once given Federal permission and support, much as happened with state lotteries, poker will become more socially accepted and heavily promoted and marketed to the general public which should lead to a broader range of U.S. players to embrace the game.
8. No child support delinquents - People who owe money for child support would not be allowed to play online poker on licensed sites. Similar to underage players if they did manage to play, they would be responsible for any losses but would not be allowed to collect any winnings if caught.
9. No credit cards to be used for funding accounts - The bill, as presently written, would explicitly ban the acceptance of credit card payments by licensed online poker sites. It would further ban the licensed poker sites from accepting deposits from a payment processor that accepts credit card payments. Protecting the possibility of poker players funding accounts with money they don't already own is a big priority for supporters of UIGEA. It will have some limiting effects, but in the end it should only encourage other funding options like direct deposit, Paypal, and possibly debit cards to be prioritized and developed.
Without a doubt, the player pool and dynamics of the newly legislated and regulated U.S. online poker environment will be different than what we have become accustomed to over the last few years. Using my overly simplistic metaphor, I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to shift 180 degrees in 180 days to the new poker world.
Rep. Joe Barton, playing the part of a confident Washington politician well in drumming up optimism in the press and poker community has indicated that if he can get his online poker bill to a vote, it will pass.
"I think this bill is going to benefit from a lot of spade-work that's been done the past two or three Congresses," said Barton, a senior member of the House's energy and commerce committee. He explained that the bill has 11 co-sponsors including seven Democrats.
"We're going to try to get a bill on the president's desk in this Congress," Barton said.