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Place bets, clear debts

BY CHRIS STEINKE | MARCH 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Click the mouse and lose your house — er, just kidding.

Let’s try this: We love it. Click to balance our budget.

That’s right, ladies and gentleman. Senate Study Bill 1165 is gaining momentum in the state Legislature, passing in committee 9-6 to move it toward debate on the Senate floor. If passed, the bill would legalize intrastate online poker and provide regulatory commissions in hopes of creating safe, legitimate, Internet portals that Iowans can frequent — and that would generate tax revenue.

Believe me, fellow Iowans: This is a good thing. Around $30 million to $35 million of tax revenue on an annual basis can fund a lot of state scholarships.

This bill will confuse those under the impression the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act outlawed Internet gambling in 2007. But that is not the case, even if some news publications calling it the “Internet gambling ban” led you to believe so.

Rather, it is illegal for a gambling website to operate in the United States without a license — and no state is granting online gaming licenses at present. This means players in the United States, who may represent the largest Internet gambling market, take their business to unregulated, untaxed, off-shore operators. The Internet-gambling act banned U.S. banks from working with these international gambling sites.

Senate Study Bill 1165 would allow Iowa to be the first state to issue online poker licenses to qualified businesses (mostly casinos, presumably). Iowans would be able register online accounts at these licensed operators, and they would have to log on within the state’s borders in order to play legally.

Those in favor of the 2007 federal bill cited public morality while defending online gambling restrictions. In 2006, then-Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa, characterized online gambling with the phrase, “You just click your mouse and lose your house.”

Golly, thank you, lawmakers. Us lowly citizens would not know what to do without your moral guidance. Hell, if drugs weren’t already illegal, simpletons like us would all probably think they were A-OK. The rejection of individual liberty in order to prevent victimless crime is rightfully pious and far from fascism.

Wait, no.

The more likely reason behind U.S. legislators’ opposition to online gambling is its difficulty to tax and regulate. Evidence? The same 2007 bill restricting online poker allows specific exemptions for online state lotteries.

So, if online gambling can be taxed, it’s legal. If it can’t, it’s immoral. See? In case you were wondering, the same standards apply to intoxicants (you dirty hippie).

(This bit of jocular irreverence just came to me: The United States should be able to sell suicide licenses. There were approximately 380,000 suicide attempts in the country each year; multiply that by $200 per license, and you get more than $75 million in federal revenue. Chris Steinke for president, everybody.)

If this bill passes, Iowa will be the first state to legalize, regulate, and tax online poker, but it will not be the first government entity to do so. European countries (often synonymous with “progressive” countries) such as France, Denmark, Italy, and the United Kingdom have all legalized and regulated online gambling, tapping into the continent’s $12.5 billion industry.

Of course, in order to ensure online poker’s long-term sustainability, regulation will have to be the utmost priority. There are too many ways for tech-savvy gamers to gain an unfair virtual advantage. Two players collaborating at the same table, for instance, puts the others at a significant statistical disadvantage.

For instance, AbsolutePoker was accused in 2007 of stealing between $500,000 and $1 million over a two-week span by allegedly sitting in on tables and using its administrative omniscience to favor company accounts.

Right now, U.S. wiring laws cover sports betting, not games of skill. This makes it difficult for Iowa’s estimated 150,000 online poker players to sue international, unregulated, and cheating online poker providers to recover lost funds.

Iowans and Americans have been deprived of the ability to play online poker in a safe, regulated environment for years. Morality is not the issue; tax revenue is the issue, and Iowa has the ability to pioneer what could evolve to be a nationally lucrative taxation strategy.

So, pass the legislation and give us regulation. Then we can place our bets to clear our debts.


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