Why I Fight for Regulated Internet Poker

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I don’t particularly like playing Internet poker compared to live poker. I find it rather sterile and mechanical in comparison. Poker online certainly simulates sitting at the table with other players, but I prefer to sit actually face-to-face with my opponents. Not only are there all sorts of strategic observations and maneuvers that are lost when playing on the Internet, but the joy of playing is far greater when I can interact with the other players and experience their expressions of emotions, both triumph and failure.

Don’t get me wrong, I have played a lot of Internet poker. In fact, when I first took up Texas Hold’em I played and learned the game exclusively online. The amount of time overall I have played poker online probably still exceeds the amount of time I have played live. It is relaxing to fire up a game online here and there, as well as good practice of my basic poker skills.

However, I have never really trusted poker play on the Internet, and with good reason. The history of Internet poker is rife with examples of cheating, fraud, theft, site mismanagement, software errors and poor customer service. Players have lost money big time to these, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in total over the years. So why then do I fight to get a bill passed to authorize Internet poker for Florida?

In the early days of Internet poker, although the industry had little regulation anywhere in the world, U.S. players at least had a choice of any of the active sites and could choose to play on those with a better reputation. After the United States Congress passed new legislation in 2006 in an effort to outlaw poker sites, most of the legitimate sites closed their doors to U.S. players, leaving only those willing to take a higher risk – which also meant it was riskier for U.S. players. And after the enforcement actions of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2011 to break the largest sites still serving U.S. players, it left only offshore sites run by scofflaws available. Just like the short-lived alcohol prohibition of the early 20th Century, prohibition doesn’t stop citizens from partaking. It just forces them to get serviced by the criminal element.

Poker players deserve better. As has been the case for gambling of all types, I believe it is incumbent on our government to regulate the industry to protect the “public health”. Prohibition doesn’t work; regulation does. With new legislation to authorize Internet poker comes strict regulation that is effective in protecting players. We have already seen this successfully implemented in three U.S. states – Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware – as well as in numerous jurisdictions overseas. Good legislation and regulation can solve all the deficiencies and dangers of unregulated Internet poker.

At this point, it seems inevitable that state-regulated Internet poker will spread in the U.S. California, Pennsylvania, New York and several other states have bills under consideration. Florida, with the third-largest population and the third-highest annual cardroom revenues in the country, will sooner or later come along.

To ensure that Internet poker legislation is done right in Florida, from the perspective of the players, I wrote a draft bill myself. No, I’m not a lawyer or a politician. No, there isn’t some vested interest behind me financing their stake in the industry. No, I don’t stand to benefit from the legislation, other than as a player who wants better choices. I simply saw something that needed to be done which I could do, and did it.

Now I have a website, a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a strong desire to make the draft bill I wrote into a reality. As with any new legislation, it’s a tough row to hoe. It’s especially tough in this case, as the core issue is contentious in Florida (“gambling expansion”) and it is not a financed campaign. I wouldn’t like my chances except, well, I’m a poker player. I know how to strategize; I know how to take risks; I know how to read people. And most important of all, I know how to persist – just because you don’t have success one day doesn’t mean you quit the game.

I just sat down at the game of Florida gambling politics. My chips are on the table. The difference between this game and poker is that when I win, so will all poker players.

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