A high-powered keynote panel at the 2007 Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas agreed that Internet gambling should be regulated in the United States, and that poker would very likely be the first to break the regulatory barrier.
The panel, moderated by American Gaming Association Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, included key AGA members Gary Loveman of Harrah’s and Terry Lanni of MGM Mirage, with former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, chairman of the Poker Players Alliance, and Andre Wilsenach, Alderney gaming regulator, rounding out the panel. U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., was unable to attend due to a conflict with the Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing on the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was taking place in Washington, D.C., at the same time.
There was actually little debate that Internet gambling should be regulated. Both land-based operators discussed their companies’ previous attempts at offering offshore online gaming sites, which have now been mothballed. However, all panel members were very vocal on the impact which the World Trade Organization may have on speeding up the developments in the United States.
When asked, point blank, if Internet gambling will be regulated in the United States -- and, if so, when -- Harrah’s Loveman pointed to D’Amato’s PPA efforts and said that he believed that the regulation of online poker could be accomplished in as little as 18 to 24 months. But, as regulation relates to other forms of Internet gambling, "There’s not much energy or leadership on this so it could be as long as eight to 10 years or even beyond that," he said.
D’Amato stated that the WTO sanctions will be a significant factor in determining the timeline. He agreed that poker will be the first to "break the barrier," and could in as soon as 12 to 18 months.
MGM's Lanni also agreed that poker would be the first to come and that the WTO penalties may accelerate the broader forms of I-gaming being regulated. But, as the avowed Republican groused about the current administration, Lanni noted that the anticipated change in administration to the Democrats will be a deciding factor. "It all depends on how enlightened the next president is to this issue," he said.
In the meantime, Wilsenach said he’s hearing of more and more permutations of online gaming products being designed to meet the current regulations. These include subscription models and other options.
The discussion turned to the sticky issue of state versus federal regulation of Internet gambling, a key concern of the AGA as it relates to the Barney Frank bill. Lanni minced no words, calling the prospect of federally regulated Internet gambling "nonsensical." "These agencies can’t fulfill their current responsibilities, much less take on more," he added.
D’Amato took a different tack and pointed to the banking system, where there are both state and federally licensed banks. "There’s room for both levels of involvement," he said. "There could be a broad federal system and still allow the states to ban or strengthen the regulations."
There was clearly agreement, however, on the need to address both underage and responsible gambling concerns in any regulatory discussions.
Veteran observers of the I-gaming industry might take some heart in the panel's predictions. All agreed that applying political pressure to make the changes is critical and consumers’ voices will make a difference, particularly in the key election year of 2008.