Editorial: Who's Your Horse?

15 January 2008

Who is your favorite candidate for U.S. president? Why? Is it because of his or her stance on Internet gambling? Well actually, none of them has declared a stance on Internet gambling. But really, how important is the issue to you in the grand scheme of things?

If you're part of the American electorate, it probably doesn't register on your radar. You're probably more concerned about Iraq, health care, immigration, the environment and a mess of many other problems. The candidates are simply not going to address a controversial and relatively unimportant issue such as Internet gambling in the run-up to the election.

But we can certainly make some educated speculation about how good or bad each candidate might be for our industry.

One thing that seems pretty clear is that a Democratic president would probably be more likely to favor opening the U.S. market to regulated Internet gambling than would a Republican. Very generally speaking, the Republicans, led by the religious right, have supported prohibitory legislation over the last several years and Democrats have mildly opposed. Internet gambling just happens to be one of those issues where Republicans defer to "family values."


One of the frontrunners on the Democratic side is still married to the rascal who presided over the country from 1993-2000. Although Sen. Hilary Clinton, D-N.Y., has no position on online gambling, the Poker Players Alliance describes her husband's administration as "strongly anti-Internet gaming."

Former President Bill Clinton actually opposed bills championed by Reps. Goodlatte, R-Va., and Leach, R-Iowa, in 1999-2000 because of the exemptions they contained, but he then ordered the Justice Department to work with Reps. Conyers, D-Mi., and Cannon, R-Utah, to draft prohibiting legislation that did not contain exemptions.

Incidentally, shortly before Clinton left office, he amended the Interstate Horseracing Act to clarify that racing "via telephone and other electronic media" is permitted if authorized by states in which it takes place.

It seems reasonable to expect Hilary's administration would resemble her husband's in many ways, but we can't forget that much has changed in the last eight years. Internet gambling has grown and matured into a mainstream phenomenon, and the industry has taken great strides in proving its legitimacy. The general discourse on the issue should be much improved, and Hilary at least seems like a candidate willing to listen to all sides.

Another big change since the Clinton era is that the American Gaming Association's official position on prohibitory legislation changed in 2005 from support to neutrality. The group now wants to create a commission to study the viability of various I-gaming policies, and perhaps that may be the baby step the country needs to take in order to go forward. Of course, the AGA probably wants the market to itself, and it's always curious to ponder how much it lost or gained with the passage of the UIGEA.

And it is worth noting that in November Hilary Clinton announced the formation of the Nevada Business Leadership Council, a group of business leaders in the state who have pledged to support her. The council includes former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, who is now an executive at Harrah's; former Harrah's Chairman Phil Satre; Vegas.com CEO Howard Lefkowitz; MGM executive Punam Mather; and Playlv Gaming director Henry Terry.

"Sen. Clinton has been very fair in looking at offline gambling as the economic engine it's proven to be," Jan Jones told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "As for online gambling . . . she has not taken a position, but I'm sure she's willing to listen."


It is widely reported that Sen. Obama, D-Ill., is a pretty good poker player. But if we look at his history on gambling, we get mixed signals. A very good exploration of his history can be found at the Review Journal.

"In simple terms," says the Review-Journal, "Obama was an antagonist of the gaming industry when he was an Illinois legislator. Now, as a federal lawmaker and presidential candidate, he is its friend, although it is a friendship on uneasy terms."

The Review-Journal also reports that although Obama has opposed gaming-connected contributions in the past, he now accepts them because gaming is regulated at the state level, so his acceptance is no longer a conflict of interest.

There is also a very interesting quote in the Review-Journal article: "Obama's campaign said he believes tribal gaming should be decided on a case-by-case basis with consideration for the wishes of the states involved, and that the government should 'bring (Internet gaming)' under regulatory control to stop the worst abuses'-- that is, make it legal."


The problem with gauging how any of the major Republican contenders would address Internet gambling is that they are all too heavily interested in pleasing social conservatives, who typically oppose gaming of any sort. At this point, it's hard to imagine a Republican president pushing to legalize Internet gambling.

But with the Republican presidential contender, as with the Democratic contenders and any other politician running for any election, there is an important thing to remember: It's one thing to say something that will get you elected and quite another thing to actually mean or follow up with what you say. Remember, George W. Bush said he wasn't a nation-builder.

And another thing to remember is Congress is supposed to be the law-making body of the American government. No legislation can be enacted without its cooperation. It is of little consequence for a president to support I-gaming legislation if the Congress opposes it.

Bradley Vallerius

Articles by Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials. Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

Bradley Vallerius Website