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US Poker Gambling Bills & Legislation

Following the events of Black Friday in April 2011, we’ve seen more attempts than ever to legalize online poker on either a state or federal level.

Not that we blame anyone for trying. Legalizing online poker would be beneficial in numerous ways, such as:

  • Revenue. Legal gambling would generate billions in revenue for both the nation and individual states. In fact, representatives and supporters of legal online poker in California estimate that $200+ million could be generated in the first year alone, thanks to licensing fees and taxes. Now, just think if that was for all 50 states…
  • Protection. Players would be protected from unregulated operators that cannot be pursued by the US government. Companies operating from the states would be held to strict guidelines, and punished severely if unlicensed or treating players unfairly.
  • Jobs. New companies would mean job creation and growth.
  • Peace of mind. It would be great knowing that I could play poker for money without having to fear the DOJ knocking down my door, or my bank closing my account because I like to play Texas holdem on the weekends for fun.

There is no shortage of reasons as to why online poker (or gambling) should be legal in the United States. Freedom is another one.

Unfortunately, though, most bills do not become law. Some make it to the Senate or President only to be turned away. Others are doomed before they start, because the representatives or supporters of the bill are proposing laws with their interests in mind, as opposed to the public’s. Then you have states like Nevada or New Jersey that have paved the way with legal online gambling in their states in record time.

With all this mind, we thought it would be interesting to review some of the gambling bills that have been introduced in the last few years. You’ll find summaries of 10 highly publicized bills below, with links to pages where we cover them in more detail.

Online Poker / Gambling Bills & Acts

California Bill SB 51 – SB 51 also known as the Internet Gambling Consumer Protection and Public Private Partnership Act of 2013. It was introduced in December 2012 by Sen. Roderick Wright in attempt to legalize online poker in the state of California. If successful, millions of dollars in revenue will be generated, which would put the state on the right path to improving their current budget crisis.

H.R. 2366 – Also known as the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011. This bill was introduced on June 24, 2011 by Texas Rep. Joe Barton. It failed in 2013, a short time before he introduced his new bill, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013.

Internet Poker Consumer Protection Act of 2013 – This bill is another attempt to legalize online poker in California. What’s unique about this bill is that it was signed by 8 different Indian tribes, one of which is the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians. This is noteworthy because at one time they were opposed to legalized online gambling. It appears that they changed their mind, however, once you read the laws they’re proposing you’ll quickly see that it was a waste of time to draft this.

Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013 – This is Texas Rep. Joe Barton’s most recent attempt to legalize online poker at the federal level. This bill will require that operators are licensed before offering online games, or else they face harsh penalties. What’s unique about this bill is that their bad actors clause is temporary, whereas other bills prohibit operators from receiving a license permanently if they were convicted of breaking gambling laws.

Internet Skill Game Licensing and Control Act of 2008 – This bill was introduced on September 26, 2008 by Sen. Robert Menendez. It died in 2009. The point of this was to legalize skill games, as opposed to only poker which so many other bills focus on. That includes card games, dice, tiles and bridge. It would’ve prohibited small games of chance.

Internet Wagering Citizens Protection Act – This bill is unique in that it wasn’t drafted by a congressman. It was written up by part-time poker pro Martin Shapiro. He created this bill in three weeks by combining three already drafted bills.

His goal isn’t to get this bill to pass, but to instead provide a guide for all lawmakers to follow. What I like most about his approach is that he took other poker players thoughts and comments into consideration during the editing process, before sending the bill off to lawmakers for consideration.

New Jersey 2578 – This is the amended bill for gambling in New Jersey. Unlike other bills that we’ve reviewed, online gambling was made legal in the state in February 2013, shortly following the passing of Nevada’s online gambling bill. The first poker site is set to launch in New Jersey at the end of November 2013.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1235 – This bill was introduced in April 2013 by Rep. Tina Davis. The goal is not only to legalize online poker, but to legalize all kinds of online games. This includes poker, slots and table games. However this bill willprohibit games of chance, which include bingo, keno and lottery games.

SB 678 Internet Gambling – Also known as the Authorization and Regulation of Internet Poker and Consumer Protection Act of 2013. It was introduced by Sen. Lou Correa of California in February 2013. This bill was marked as urgent, which means that it needs two thirds the vote and the governor signature to pass. However, they failed to make the deadline of September 13, so the earliest we’ll see any news on this bill is 2014.

The Internet Gambling Regulation, Enforcement and Consumer Protection Act of 2013 – This bill is similar to Joe Barton’s H.R. 2666 that recently failed. It was introduced by Peter Kling, a New York representative, on June 6, 2013. If passed, it would legalize all forms of online gambling, with the exception of sports betting. That creates a catch 22, because legalizing all games will be much harder then legalizing just one type of game, such as poker.

What Does It Take For a Bill to Pass?

A bill can take several years to turn into law. Here is an outline of the process: [1]

  • A representative takes and idea and drafts (writes) the bill.
  • The representative finds representatives and sponsors to support the bill.
  • The bill is introduced to the House of Representatives.
  • The bill is reviewed, researched and revised by the committee.
  • Once the committee approves the bill, it’s sent to the House to be debated on.
  • A vote is held. If the majority vote yes, the bill is referred to the Senate.
  • If the majority of votes are yes, the bill is sent to the president.
  • The president an choose to sign or veto (say no) to the bill
  • If the bill is signed, it becomes law.

Once the bill becomes law, it’s no longer referred to as a bill, but instead an Act.

Becoming an Act is an unlikely future for the majority of bills introduced. According to my research less than 5% of bills are approved.

How Long From the Bill Passing to a Live Poker Site

That depends. It’s hard to give an accurate number since only 3 states have legalized online poker, and only one site so far has launched a legal poker site.

But to give some perspective, Nevada passed their bill in February 2013. They managed to launch their poker site the following May. New Jersey passed their amended bill a week later, and their first poker site is expected to launch at the end of November.

Based on this we could say it takes between 6-12 months. From my research most estimates are in the range of 2 years though, due to all the laws, processes, agencies, etc. that need to be developed or started first. That doesn’t even include the time it takes for any one operator to go through the licensing process, establishing deals or developing their software.

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.