THE FIGHT: Caesars Moves the Ball Forward

Caesars WSOP Nevada

Caesars will launch real-money online poker in Nevada this week.

Caesars announced yesterday that WSOP.com will go live for real-money poker in Nevada on Thursday morning. The launch, which was expected over the summer, makes Caesars the second company to offer legal, licensed online gambling in the United States.

“I think this is the beginning of the domino effect, the same way the state of Nevada started legalized and licensed land-based casino gaming,” said Caesars Interactive Entertainment’s CEO, Mitch Garber. “The state of Nevada is at the very cutting edge of a wave of future online gaming.”

That wave has been slow to make its way to U.S. shores, despite plenty of money thrown at it by Caesars and other gaming companies. Caesars donated heavily to the 2010 re-election campaign of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars the last few years lobbying Congress for a federal gaming bill. To date Reid hasn’t been able to deliver, which has left gaming companies to find their own way on a state-by-state basis.

“I think it’s very well-known that our company is a strong proponent” of federal legislation, Garber said. “That outcome has become less likely over time… I think it’s not incompatible for us to have hoped for and still in some ways hope for a federal framework but to embrace the state-by-state framework.”

Even though WSOP.com will be limited to Nevada for now, the launch of the site for real-money play is a positive and important step for the legalization of online gaming in America. Ultimate Poker, the only other site that has made it to market in Nevada so far, is owned by the Station Casinos group, a brand not widely known outside of Nevada.  Caesars, on the other hand, is an internationally known gaming company with a marquee brand. That will mean something in the eyes of consumers and politicians in other states.

One of those other states is Nevada’s neighbor to the west. California has flirted with online poker for several years, but competing visions about how the state should approach the industry have always caused legalization efforts to stall in the state legislature. The 2013 session ended last week without the passage of an online poker bill, but there are signs of progress and reason to hope that 2014 is the year for online poker in California. Two competing online poker bills in the California Senate continued to undergo amendments and revisions almost up to the moment the legislative session expired.

Gambling Compliance’s North American Research Director, Chris Krafcik, summed up the situation best. “Heading into ’14, competing #CA #Internet #poker bills and draft proposals now in closer alignment than at any point in the last 5+ years,” he wrote on Twitter.

For all the good news this week, it wouldn’t be an installment of THE FIGHT without some bad news. This week the Garden City Group started the long-delayed claim process for FTP’s former U.S. players to recover their account balances. While that sounds like good news, anyone who received payment from Full Tilt into his or her FTP account for anything other than poker play – from affiliates to freelance writers and everyone in between – is being excluded from the process.

Federal regulations that applicable to the process require the “victims” – FTP players – to “satisfactorily demonstrate” that they “did not knowingly contribute to, participate in, benefit from, or act in a willfully blind manner towards the commission of the offense”. The DOJ is taking a very wide interpretation of “benefit from” and excluding anyone who ever received a single dollar from FTP into their player account, one last slight from the DOJ to close out the era of unregulated real-money online poker.

All the more reason to make sure that THE FIGHT to legalize online poker marches forward, so that no U.S. player has to fear losing a poker account balance ever again.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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