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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

International Panel meets in the Aftermath of the UIGEA

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Thirty-two countries gathered round the table of regulation this week while US internet poker players and gamblers wallowed in the wake of the UIGEA. Tessa Jowell, UK Culture Secretary, is heading up the panel working to develop a set of principles that all the countries (including Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and South Africa) could agree upon. US officials were invited to the conference, held at the Royal Ascot Racetrack in Britain, but declined to attend after President Bush's signing of the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act), which was attached at the last minute to an important port security bill.

``There is a very substantial appetite for international co- operation,'' Jowell said at a press conference in Ascot, England. ``The enormous risk of prohibition [like] we saw in the U.S. in the 1920s is you force the industry underground.'' The meeting will not draw up specific guidelines for regulation, rather, ``We are here today to discuss how we can regulate on three basic principles; crime free, protection of the vulnerable and how people can have a fair bet,'' said UK Sport's minister Richard Caborn. Jowell's goal in the multinational talks is to agree on a code of conduct that the industry can follow and that nations can regulate.

A spokesman for the parent company of PartyPoker was encouraging in his evaluation of the meetings. ``To get that many countries round the table is a big step forward,'' said John Shepherd, director of corporate communications for PartyGaming Plc. ``...we are as a company, like other companies, willing to share our best practice.''

Bloomberg News reports that a draft of the agreement indicates the nations probably will commit to the idea that ``remote gambling should not be a source of crime'' and that it ``should be fair to the consumer and that the protection of children and vulnerable people should be a key objective.''

Internet gambling remains a growing industry, despite being dealt a damaging blow by the UIGEA. Research shows that bets placed on the web doubled in the last five years. A study by RSe Consulting found about 1M people place bets regularly online in the U.K., a third of all European gamblers.

Any voluntary regulations will face scrutiny by those in opposition to online gambling, as well as those who say that more work should be done to help those suffering from gambling addictions. ``Warm words will not help those thousands of families that are blighted by gambling addiction,'' said Hugo Swire, the member of England's Conservative Party in charge of culture policy. ``Up until now, the government has failed to prosecute a single on-line gaming company for breaking the existing legislation on advertising internet gambling, despite clear breaches.''

Addressing this issue, this week, delegates will discuss age and identification verification systems, including the role of government in making it easier for gambling sites to identify customers, according to the documents drafted by U.K. officials.

They will also examine social responsibility associated with remote gambling, including whether operators should be required to fund awareness campaigns on problem gambling or offer website links to counseling.
While spearheaded by the UK and supported by the European Union, which recently told members such as France and Austria to stop discriminating against international bookmakers and casinos, voluntary regulations may not be effective in an industry that is truly global in nature. Jowell's department estimates there are 2,300 gambling web sites across the world, with Antigua topping the league of host nations. The U.K. has 70 online betting sites, though none offer games like poker, blackjack and roulette.

``However good the new regime will be in the U.K. for online gambling, it might not be as effective if overseas websites simply ignore the high standards we have set,'' John Carr, new technology adviser for children's charity NCH, said in a emailed statement.

Regardless of the long-term effectiveness of the guidelines developed in these meetings, the spirit of regulation and oversight can be only a good thing for the internet gambling industry in the long run. Any work that can be done to bring the business of gambling into the light of corporate boardrooms, is sure to be more effective in the long run than the current US policy of criminalizing gaming sites and forcing US gamblers to turn to less stringently regulated sites for their bet-making. Major sites like FullTilt Poker and PokerStars have long supported legislation of internet poker, as shown by their unwavering support of organizations like the Poker Player's Alliance.

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