Table Talk: How The U.S. Makes Progress, Slowly But Surely

New jersey hudson river

This week, I’m back to vicarious drinking. Since I’d love to be in Deauville, France, for the European Poker Tour stop, I’ll simply pretend that I am. Sure, it’s quite cold there, but that’s what they have wine for, right? A nice bottle or two of a room-temperature red Bordeaux, alongside a plate of cheese and some steak au poivre, will warm the bones, I believe. Please join me. I can’t drink all of this alone!

The past week in poker has centered around live tournaments, from the wrap of the Aussie Millions in Melbourne to the start of the European Poker Tour stop in Deauville. The World Series of Poker Circuit finished in Tunica, Mississippi, and began series in South Africa as well as Las Vegas.

Phil Ivey’s training site continued to accumulate more pro poker players, with Christina Lindley as the 29th. But IveyPoker finally announced something that made more sense, the acquisition of LeggoPoker, an instructional site started by Aaron Jones. Ivey plans to start the Ivey League and weave the sites and pros together.

Over in the United States, big news came with a pseudo-approval of online gambling in the state of New Jersey. In fact, the governor of the state actually vetoed the bill, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Governor Chris Christie waited until the last possible minute to act on an online gambling bill that passed through the state’s legislature in January. The proposed law sought to legalize online gambling within the state of New Jersey, the home of Atlantic City casinos. As some of those establishments are failing, the influx of potential money from affiliations with online gambling may be the only revenue stream that could save them.

The governor had several choices of actions with the bill. Leaving it alone would have allowed it to pass into law, signing it would have been an outright endorsement, a veto would have killed it, and a conditional veto would have allowed Governor Christie to make changes and send it back to the legislature for approval, guaranteeing his ultimate signature.

He gave a conditional veto today at the last possible moment. And he did it with conditions that will likely be happily met by state legislators. Christie wants more funding for compulsive gambling treatment programs, stricter requirements for potential licensees, a higher tax rate, and a sunset period of 10 years, after which the state government must re-evaluate to continue legalized online gambling. All analysts conclude that legislators will quickly approve these changes.

The governor stated: “This bill represents an important policy decision for the residents of New Jersey, and an historic opportunity to continue the State’s leadership as a premiere destination for tourism and entertainment. Such a significant step must be carefully considered, balancing the benefits of job creation, economic development, and the continued revitalization of Atlantic City against the risks of addiction, corruption and improper influence. It is my duty as Governor to make these determinations, always mindful of my duty to guarantee the continued welfare of our families, our neighbors, and the future generations who will call our State home.”

The statement from his office also noted that Christie recognizes the value and potential of Internet gaming to the revitalization of Atlantic City, and it is the right time for the state to move forward as one of the first states to permit Internet gaming.

Nevada and Delaware are the only other states that have legalized online gambling – poker only in Nevada – and are among many that are considering the option.

It might seem odd that US poker players are celebrating this “victory” in New Jersey, but one must look at the long-term impact that it can have. Online poker for New Jersey is the first in a line of stepping stones that may lead to the return of a thriving online gaming industry in the United States.

Nevada has issued numerous licenses to companies who are in the process of creating Internet poker websites for Nevada residents and visitors. Though they are having some compliance issues, there is hope that sites might be operational by the end of the summer in 2013. New Jersey will likely face the same type of timeline, with the implementation of a working regulatory framework and licensed sites taking at least a year to come to fruition. But it is a start.

It is also the start of a larger system of online gaming. With states like California likely to follow in New Jersey’s footsteps, states will ultimately search for liquidity in the way of larger player pools. Nevada is already seeking legislative approval to authorize interstate gaming, allowing the governor to work with other states without federal approval. This will allow states to combine player bases and improve profit.

The US federal government is slow on the uptake. Potential for a countrywide bill that would legalize online gambling, or at least poker, failed miserably in 2012, as it had in years past. Without many strong supporters of this type of legislation in our Congress, it could be a while before the US sees a viable bill. That leaves it up to the states to do it on their own. And they’re slowly but surely doing it.

The New Jersey development is also positive for PokerStars. The company has been in negotiations to purchase an Atlantic City hotel/casino, and some said the finalization of the deal awaited the governor’s thumbs-up on the state bill. With today’s response from Christie, there could be a PokerStars-owned casino in the United States very soon. Not only will it save more than 1.700 jobs for those casino employees, but it puts the largest online poker site in the world on US soil. This is good.

So, US poker players and advocates are celebrating today. We have to accept the small victories when they come, as it’s one step closer to online poker returning to the “land of the free.”

Makes you want to have another glass of wine, doesn’t it? Let’s toast to Governor Chris Christie and to the eventual results of his progressive move. Cheers!