Friday, October 13, 2006

Is the PartyPoker over?

I had a little bit of trouble getting to sleep last night thanks to the roving PSO welcome wagon (a/k/a NewJane and JoyBell) who came knocking on my hotel room door sometime after midnight.

After battling the Minnesota snow and 15-degree wind chill, their smiling faces and personal warmth were appreciated…no matter the hour.

In any case, I managed to crawl down to the breakfast area in time to grab the last copy of USAToday, where I found the following editorial under the title, “Is the PartyPoker over?”

“It’s a long shot that more than a handful of the millions of Americans who gamble on the Internet ever heard of the Safe Port Act, which President Bush is expected to sign today. But they’re about to feel its reach.

A measure hastily tacked on to the port security bill is designed to crack down on offshore, online casinos by banning payment with credit cards or electronic fund transfers.

Even before Bush signs the bill, it’s had an impact: The larger online casinos saw their stock prices plummet on foreign exchanges, and several said they’d stop taking bets from U.S. customers. Considering that U.S. bettors generate more than 50% of industrywide revenue, many operators could go bust.

That’s no tragedy. Gambling can have devastating social consequences. And when people can do it 24/7 from computers, it can lead to financial trouble and social isolation. For students caught up in the current poker craze, it can invite educational failure.

But whether the act is the right remedy is another matter. There’s reason for doubt.

First is the question of whether the plan is workable. That won’t be known for a while. The government has 270 days to write regulations, and that will be a formidable task.

U.S. Banks and other credit card issuers can be restricted easily. But third parties outside U.S. jurisdiction – notably a company called NETeller – take electronic transfers from banks and pass them on to gambling sites, charging high fees in the process. That’s not easily stopped.

Then there’s the question of whether the government should be telling adults how they can spend their money. Barring a casino from operating in a state to keep gambling distant is one thing. Meddling with people’s bank accounts is another.

Restricting gambling for minors would have been a amore sensible place to start. That would have addressed the most vulnerable population and served as a useful test.

Regardless, the new law will be an interesting experiment. It might rein in the gambling craze, or it might just shift more of it to less responsible operators. Either way, it’s a safe bet that this is the first hand to be played in a much longer game.”

From USA Today, Friday, October 13, 2006