A debate is taking place in states across our country, including Minnesota, about whether millions of Americans (and several hundred thousand Minnesotans) will be allowed to play poker over the Internet. Though it may not seem so on the surface, this issue is bigger than a card game. It’s about protecting our personal freedoms and the rights of individual states to resist the latest campaign by one billionaire, Sheldon Adelson. He would like Congress to rewrite the Wire Act to ban all forms of gambling online, including banning state lotteries from selling tickets online.
On Friday, April 15, 2011, known in the poker community as “Black Friday,” online poker in the United States was shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice, based on its interpretation of the Wire Act of 1961. After further review, in December 2011, the Justice Department determined that it had made a mistake in its interpretation of the Wire Act and that in fact it did not have anything to do with poker or online gambling. This meant that states now had the power to determine if the game should be legal within their borders. To date, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have enacted laws to license and regulate online poker.
Since Black Friday, thousands of poker players across the country have come together, in coordination with the Poker Players Alliance, to advocate for their right and freedom to play poker online in their homes. We have been joined in our fight for online poker rights by experts and scholars — the American Gaming Association and recently the Coalition for Consumer Online Protection.
A bill in Congress, HR 2666, the Internet Poker Freedom Act, is sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and it has bipartisan support. It is one of three bills introduced on the issue.
Prohibition does not work; it never has and it never will. If Congress were to pass Adelson’s Wire Act rewrite, it essentially would be promoting the unregulated offshore sites that currently offer online gaming to U.S. customers while withholding any authority for our law enforcement to address it. What’s more, rewriting the Wire Act would take away states’ rights from Minnesota and the other 49 states.
The fact is, licensed and regulated online poker sites are using effective technology for age verification, finding problem gamblers and helping them, and stopping criminal activity, including money laundering. The same type of technology is being used by the Minnesota State Lottery for its online sales.
In the three states that have licensed online poker, there has not been one report of underage players or criminal activity. Every move that is made on these sites — from your deposits and withdrawals to how you play and what you say — are all recorded and kept for review, if needed.
At its core, this issue is very basic. You can ban online poker in Minnesota and across the country, which again will create a robust black market outside of U.S. jurisdiction and leave our law enforcement with no way of policing it. Or you can license and regulate online poker to offer a safe and fair environment for players, while protecting consumers from fraud and misuse.
Poker is an American tradition, like baseball and apple pie, with a rich history in our country. Poker is played at kitchen tables all the way up to the game’s pinnacle, the World Series of Poker Main Event, where any one of us could use our skills to become the world champion of poker. Online poker is the 21st-century version of America’s great game.
The rest of the free world is enjoying this great game online as I write, and they are watching to see if the United States really still is the “land of the free.”
Mike Qualley is Minnesota state director of the Poker Players Alliance.