November 24, 2009

Florida online gambling report

The 12-page report, prepared by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) think tank, is likely to inflame all sides of the debate and is to be presented to the Florida Senate by the end of the month.

The study suggests three options for the future of online poker in the state – wait for Congress to legalise online poker at federal level; explicitly prohibit online poker; or authorise and regulate it - and seeks to tread a neutral path between the three.

On the first, that of maintaining the status quo, OPPAGA notes that while ‘this option would not require any state action, [it] also would not establish additional consumer protections for Florida residents who play Internet poker’ and that ‘at this time, the possibility for passage of federal legislation is questionable.’

On the second, a move to make online poker explicitly illegal, the study notes that ‘a law to prohibit Internet gambling could be difficult to enforce, as anyone with the appropriate equipment and Internet connections can play online poker in the privacy of his or her own home.’

However to the likely chagrin of online poker’s advocates, the study continues that ‘a Florida law outlawing internet poker help limit the negative social consequences of Internet gambling,’ continuing that un-named ‘opponents of gambling expansion argue that prevalence of gambling addiction is three to four times higher with Internet gambling than with non-Internet gambling.’

On the topic of legalising online poker, however, the report appears to have rejected recent data submitted to OPPAGA by poker lobby group Poker Voters of America (PVA) indicating that legal online poker could raise the cash-strapped state US$90m a year in tax revenue, noting that ‘expanding authorised gambling in the state to include Internet gambling could generate revenue [but] at this time no objective estimates exist to assess potential state revenues.’

Providing background on present laws governing internet poker, the report also concludes ‘in the United States, the Department of Justice interprets federal statutes to prohibit all forms of Internet gambling; however the department’s interpretation relies upon some federal laws that predate the Internet. Florida law does not specifically address Internet poker or other forms of gambling.”

Regarding online poker’s present legal status in Florida specifically, it concludes that ‘while Florida law does not expressly prohibit Internet Gambling… according to [Attorney General] opinion, the Wire Act provisions, in combination with state law, prohibit an individual from placing a bet or wager by wire communication or via the Internet.’

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