Nevada Taking the Lead for Legal Online Poker - by Martin Harris
In 1931 when Nevada ended a two-decade long prohibition to make gambling legal in the state once again, the stage was set for a new industry to be born. Not too long after came the first big casino hotels and the eventual emergence of Las Vegas as a gambling center and major U.S. tourist destination.
Today Nevada is on the verge once again of becoming a pioneer of sorts, this time as the first U.S. state to begin providing online gambling games to its residents and visitors, with online poker due to highlight this brand new industry. How exactly did Nevada come to occupy this prominent position once again, and what might players come to expect going forward? Here’s a quick overview of recent developments and a look ahead at what’s to come.
Black Friday: The Day the Games Went Dark
After a decade’s worth of mostly unfettered growth, online poker took a major step back on Friday, April 15, 2011. That was the day the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment and civil complaint targeting the world’s biggest online poker sites and individuals associated with them. The move heralded a swift, dramatic change for American players who after many years had grown accustomed to the ready availability of real money games. Soon each of those sites were no longer options for U.S. players, and thus the day came to be known as “Black Friday” -- a reference to the lights having been turned out (so to speak) on online poker in the U.S.
Black Friday defendants were not only charged with violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, but with breaking other laws, too, including the Illegal Gambling Business Act and laws against bank fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Several of the defendants have since seen their cases settled by pleading guilty and agreeing to fines and jail sentences. Meanwhile, in July 2012 PokerStars reached a settlement with the DOJ that involved forfeiting a hefty sum of money to the government while also permitting PokerStars to acquire Full Tilt Poker. Today both of those sites continue to operate and serve players outside of the U.S.
For American players all of these developments were diverting to follow, although they haven’t as yet had much direct significance other than perhaps to bring those who played on Full Tilt Poker a step closer to recovering their still-inaccessible balances. No safe or legal options remain for online poker enthusiasts in the US.
A New Light: Intrastate Online Poker
Even before Black Friday, federal bills designed to license and regulate online gambling in the U.S. were being proposed and discussed by legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, none of these bills has made it far enough in the legislative process to be voted upon by either Congressional house, never mind be signed into law by the President. Thus when it comes to current federal laws regarding online gambling in the U.S., there are two laws that have been considered the most relevant to individual states interested in perhaps licensing and regulating intrastate online gambling: the UIGEA (passed in 2006) and the Federal Wire Act (passed way back in 1961).
The UIGEA is a law designed to prohibit banks and other financial transaction providers from allowing Americans to transfer funds to and from online gambling sites, including those located offshore. The final regulations for the law were put into effect in early 2009, and those regulations included a provision for individual states or reservations to issue their own online gambling licenses.
Meanwhile, the half-century old Wire Act was originally intended to stop the accepting of wagers via telephone across state lines. In December 2011, a memo emanating from the DOJ’s Criminal Division was made public clarifying that the DOJ considered the Wire Act only to concern sports betting and not other types of gambling. While that memo expressly avoided directly commenting on the UIGEA, it did reference how the UIGEA specifies that “unlawful Internet gambling” did not include bets “initiated and received or otherwise made exclusively within a single State.”
Online Poker in the Silver State
These developments have been encouraging to state legislators wishing to pass their own laws to license and regulate online gambling within their borders. As it happened, Nevada had moved out in front in this regard, having already passed Assembly Bill 258 which Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law in June 2011. That law enacted provisions governing the licensing and operation of online wagering -- including poker -- within Nevada, and by the time that DOJ memo surfaced in December, the Nevada Gaming Control Board had just approved regulations providing a framework for the licensing and operation of online gambling within the state.
By then (the end of 2011), a half-dozen companies had already applied to be licensed. Eventually the regulations were finalized, and last summer the Board began approving licenses to interactive gaming operators, technology providers, and service providers – (including All Vegas Poker’s parent company PokerTrip Enterprises, Inc.’s license to be a Marketing Affiliate).
Several months later a number of operators have been approved for licenses, including South Point Poker, Monarch Casino, American Casino & Entertainment Properties (Stratosphere), Boyd Gaming, Fertitta Interactive (Ultimate Poker, Station Casinos), Golden Nugget, MGM, and Caesars (WSOP). Numerous technology providers have been approved for licenses as well, with various arrangements between operators and technology providers starting to fall into place in anticipation of sites finally going online.
All of which means online poker players in Nevada are coming close to having many options for rejoining their favorite game online. And best of all, not only will those options be entirely legal, but players will be able to play on the sites with an assurance that the games and associated services necessarily meet standards required by the Nevada Gaming Control Board for the issuing of licenses.
Here’s the (Virtual) Deal
Operators who have been approved for licenses and who already have arrangements in place with licensed technology providers will more than likely be the first to launch their sites. We’ll likely soon see sites initially testing their software with free money games before inaugurating real money play. Games will be available both to Nevada residents and to those visiting the state. In other words, just as those who travel to Las Vegas can enjoy poker games spread in the many brick-and-mortar casinos up and down the strip, so, too, will visitors have the chance to partake in online poker games soon to be provided within the state.
When those sites do begin launching in Nevada, you can count on AVP to provide the same variety and depth of coverage of online poker as it has for many years in the live poker scene. We’ll be here to discuss developments in other states as well as they, too, follow Nevada’s lead and begin offering online poker.
So when will online poker be available in Las Vegas (and all of Nevada)? Well, no one knows for sure, but most industry experts are predicting that the Nevada Gaming Control Board will give the green light to the licensed operators to open their virtual doors sometime around April or May.
Make sure to stay tuned to All Vegas Poker and ThePokerAtlas.com for all of the information on what’s happening in both live and online poker. AVP and Atlas will have all of the information on every online poker room, and will even be offering exclusive bonuses and rewards for our community members in partnership with the best online card rooms.
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