Florida Poker Report: Current System Failing Consumers

24th November 2009 9:42 am GMT

The Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) this week published a report presenting the options available to State lawmakers in order to protect consumers from unlawful internet poker, warning that maintaining the status quo will do nothing to establish greater consumer protection without concrete action by the federal government.

The OPPAGA report sets out three options for state lawmakers in addressing the issue of unlawful internet poker, that of regulation, prohibition or a standstill pending federal legislation.

In view of the desired objective of strengthening consumer protection, the OPPAGA asserts that maintaining the status quo in Florida, where online poker is neither specifically prohibited nor regulated, could result in cost savings for the state as the Federal government would bear the cost of licensing and regulation. It warns however that until the Federal government takes action, this approach will do little to provide additional consumer protection.

The alternatives therefore would be either to regulate or specifically prohibit internet poker, both of which could cause problems for the state.

With regard to prohibition, the OPPAGA's findings suggest that such an approach may serve to reduce the number of Florida residents participating in online gambling and increase awareness of the problems associated with the activity, thereby reducing the cost to the state for the treatment of problem gamblers. It warns however of an increased cost to the state if it were to actively enforce the prohibition.

It also suggests that the state's enforcement of the prohibition could face a number of challenges, specifically its ability to identify and take action against internet gamblers in their own home and the First Amendment issues surrounding the blocking of Florida residents' access to illegal gaming sites.

On the issue of regulating internet poker, the OPPAGA believes that such an approach could increase state revenues and retain those revenues within the state, as opposed to the federal licensing system under which the states would only receive a portion of revenues. It also believes that a state regulated system could offer greater consumer protections than those currently offered by offshore providers.

This approach however is said to pose a number of problems with regard to compatibility with federal law, the state's relationship with the Seminole Tribe and increasing societal problems associated with problem gambling.

The state regulation approach was also found to impose a new cost burden on the state with regard to licensing operators, ensuring compliance with state law and monitoring for illegal sites falsely presenting themselves as being state approved.

The OPPAGA report will now be submitted to the Florida Senate where the issue of internet poker is expected to be debated early next year.

The full report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability is available for download here.

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