Terry Lanni, Chief Executive of MGM Mirage Inc., has high hopes for Congress to introduce a study on the regulation of online gambling even before the adjournment of the current Congress. "We're looking even in the lame-duck session to reintroduce this bill with some of our compatriots in the House and Senate to study (Internet) gaming," said Lanni, who directs the world's second-largest casino company.
"We think it can be taxed, we think it can be regulated, we think it can be licensed," Lanni said. "With the new leadership, with the Democrats winning the House and the Senate, we think we're going to have a much better opportunity to do that."
Lanni and other gambling proponents are pinning their hopes on the new Democrat-led House and Senate, but Nevada's own Harry Reid, who is under consideration for the post of Senate Majority Leader, has said that he does not support online gambling. "I have said on many occasions that I don't believe in Internet gambling," Reid said in a meeting with reporters, adding he'd be open to looking at the results of a study on it.
"I know that people say it can be controlled, I just have extreme doubts that it can be. But I'll be happy to look at the study. I'm not going to turn my head and say never, never."
The Poker Players Alliance, the lobbying group for poker legislation, said last week that the passage of the UIGEA mobilized poker players into voters and helped lead to the defeat of the legislation's co-sponsor Jim Leach, a 30-year veteran of the House of Representatives. In a telephone survey of 1,033 voters in Leach's district, one in seven cited the UIGEA as a key reason they voted against him, while one in ten supported his position against internet gambling.
"This was an awful close race," said pollster Thomas Riehle of RT Strategies. "It looks like on balance, Leach's position on Internet gambling hurt him more than it helped him."
Poker Player's Alliance Michael Bolcerek was heartened by the results, citing the passage of the prohibition as a major motivating force for its members. "Our members and other poker players went to the polls. They influenced the federal election," he said. "In the next 12 months we're confident that we'll get a study commission bill. We think an exemption is in order, as well."
Internet gambling was certainly a topic in the election all over the US. In North Carolina, the non-partisan group NC Family Policy Council included internet gambling in their list of questions to candidates to include in their voting guide. The self-styled "impartial, nonpartisan look at NC candidates" put the internet gambling prohibition question fourth on their list of questions to US Congressional candidates, right after same-sex marriage, domestic partner benefits and the expansion of Indian gaming. This indicates a strong interest in online gaming on the part of socially conservative groups.
With the influx of socially conservative Democrats into Congress, including NC's own newly-elected Heath Shuler, internet gaming supporters may face a battle almost as uphill as with the previous Congress. These "new" Democrats espouse a different brand of social conservatism, but still hold positions widely divergent from some of the more liberal members of their party on issues based on faith and "family values." It remains to be seen whether or not the new Congress will actually be significantly more socially liberal than the previous one.
David Stewart, a lawyer with Washington-based Ropes & Gray LLP, feels that it will not be a pressing issue for Congress to revisit the UIGEA soon, now that the legislation has passed, regardless of the nature in which it was passed. "Whenever they legislate on something, they don't come back to it for a while," he said. "They want to see, did they really screw it up or can people work their way around it?" Stewart feels that the courts will have the opportunity to determine the constitutionality of the law and its effectiveness before it comes back before Congress for repeal or amendment.
And amendment may be the best tactic for supporters of internet poker to take. With special carveouts in the law for internet lottery and horse racing, convincing legislators to add in an exemption for poker may be far easier than getting the entire law repealed.
"It's a public embarrassment. ... it's a mess," said professor I. Nelson Rose of the Whittier Law School. "Eventually I think they'll get Congress to change the law to do for Internet poker exactly what they did for Internet horse racing. It's an exemption but (based on) states' rights."
In the long term, industry officials and outside experts agree that the internet poker legislation will prove ineffective and unnecessary. MGM exec Lanni told gambling industry officials attending the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. "Prohibition didn't work, this isn't going to work." And in the short term, poker players can still find their games online at Full Tilt Poker, Tony G. Poker and Pokerstars, among others.