Internet poker is already here
Players in the State of Arizona currently play poker online, on sites that are headquartered outside the United States, and apparently out of the reach of state and federal law enforcement. Players run the additional risk that their funds could disappear overnight, and have no recourse against fraud and/or abuse.
There is a Public Safety Issue
The state cannot impose or enforce its own rules on offshore sites beyond its authority, and this may appear to be an obstacle to regulation. However, the key to eliminating the offshore sites is to simply take their market away. By providing a framework for in-state interests to offer poker games online, willingly compliant Arizona businesses will provide a safe environment for the players, who will no doubt prefer to play where they know the operator is legitimate, and that a venue would exist for conflict resolution.
With willingly compliant operators, the state can mandate protocols to prevent access to sites by minors and/or those outside the state. Along with age and identity verification, protocols for identifying and addressing behaviors associated with problem gambling would be implemented.
Regulation is a market solution that will work where prohibitions fail. In states that have authorized online gambling, offshore sites have voluntarily retreated.
Consumer Protections are Needed
Most participants in online poker are responsible players, consenting adults engaged in a skill game against each other, not against the odds nor the house. They pose no harm to themselves or their community, therefore it hardly seems reasonable to impose upon their freedom to play the game with sanctions or prohibitions. But playing on sites that have no regulation, no safeguards in place to protect players from fraud, no measures to assure player funds are secure, is inherently unsafe.
Assuring players that their funds in play are secure and always readily available. Smooth transactions are the number one issue among players, and regulations requiring cash on hand and/or adequate bonding are at the top of the list of needed regulations.
Secure transactions to protect against identity theft is another area where regulation is needed. Many players will fear having to enter their social security number to open an account for this reason, but it will be necessary for identification purposes, and players will need to know their personal information is secure.
The Legislature Should Take Action
Simply doing nothing and ignoring the issue is easy enough, but it isn’t good policy. Players continue to play in unsafe environments, and through sound legislation and regulation, the public and the players are protected without infringing on their freedoms.
We are looking for legislators willing to step up for the players, and introduce a bill to regulate internet poker within the state. We will unveil a draft proposal in the coming weeks, and plan to engage legislators on this topic in the lead up to the 2016 session.