UIGEA: Got Regs? Online Poker Sites: Got Balls?

by Lou on August 20, 2007

We’re now 300 some odd days past the enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and more than a month beyond the deadline included in the law for the Department of Justice to develop enforcement procedures. That in itself is not unusual. Enacting laws that include provisions for regulations and administrative procedures to be drawn up by civil servants is commonplace. So is slipping the deadline. Often rules are more than a year late, and sometimes even longer.

What is unusual is that the Department of Justice has been going after online poker by pressuring sites and individuals that are only peripherally related to poker. Since UIGEA did not render online poker illegal, nor did it create any new class of crimes related to gambling, a predicate offence is required to go after someone under that law.

Since the status of poker is cloudy at best in much of the United States, the DoJ has been hammering organizations and people who have been involved in other forms of gaming, such as sports betting, which is clearly illegal under the Wire Act.

When DoJ arrested Neteller founders Lawrence and Lefebvre, the arrests were not related to online poker, but to prior activities related to transferring funds to sports betting sites.

So were other recent arrests. In fact, since UIGEA was enacted, no arrests were made that involved online poker as a predicate offense. But the DoJ, which has its own issues and ought to be a toothless tiger with little or no credibility in the halls of government by now, has successfully pressured Neteller into backing away from US soil, and forced many of the online poker sites to look for other, more friendly shores to seek players for their games.

While many of us continue to rail against the government for their heavy handed approach to a non-problem, much of the problem can be laid at the feet of the online sites too. While no one wants to incur the costs of going through a long and bitter court fight, many of the online sites have yet to display a gambler’s pair of balls and take on the government in a fight most of us suspect they would win in court.

After all, they are going up against a law that itself is a paragon of hypocrisy with its cut-outs for horseracing and fantasy sports. They are doing so in a nation that embraces legal gambling in most states. In fact, most state governments actually promote gambling by getting in on the action in the form of lotteries. The court of world opinion as well as a treaty involving the World Trade Organization stand in support of legalized online poker in the United States. Even the game of poker itself, which is played by millions in the United States, is closely associated with presidents from both parties, including Richard Nixon and Harry Truman, among the more publicly acknowledged poker players.

While myriad bills have been introduced in congress, it doesn’t seem like anything of substance will happen until after the next presidential election. The issue of online poker is not going to win or lose a presidential election as long as other, bigger, broader issues are foremost in the public consciousness.

The best we can hope for is a new congress and a new president in 2009 that take office with a desire to sweep out a law that few people really give a damn about, and that all of the poker-playing public would like to see swept aside as part of the detritus of a dysfunctional administration and discredited Department of Justice. Absent that, someone is going to have to display the brass balls required to step up and slug it out toe-to-toe with the feds.

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