Monday, June 28, 2010

The Game Changer in Online Gambling and Land-Based Card Rooms

Just as the World Series of Poker (WSOP) opened its doors at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, last month, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) raised the curtain on its evolving policies in the new environment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

GCB Packs a Powerful Punch

The UIGEA aims to stop U.S.-based players from making bets over the internet. Commencing June 1, the UIGEA requires U.S. financial institutions to block debit and credit card transactions destined for online gambling sites. Once the UIGEA regulations were finalized and in effect, the Nevada Gaming Control Board (GCB) publicized its role as the arbiter of suitable business relationships between Nevada casinos and online gaming entities.

The GCB chose May 28th, the first day of the 2010 WSOP, to reply to an unidentified lawyer’s inquiry concerning the permissibility of a business relationship between the Venetian Las Vegas Hotel and Casino and the North American Poker Tour presented by PokerStars.net. The Venetian/NAPT inaugural event in Las Vegas last February was sponsored by PokerStars.net.

The GCB response was posted on its website by board member Randall Sayre, immediately after the June 1 deadline, for financial institutions to implement the regulations under the UIGEA. The Board’s letter addressed, in particular, the lawyer’s question as to the regulatory body’s distinction between Internet gaming company dot-com and dot-net websites. The GCB’s reply puts a bull’s eye on its developing policy in the face of “blurred” lines between dot-com websites which take bets and dot-net websites which do not take bets.

Venetian Casino Retreats

In its letter the Nevada GCB infers that the unidentified lawyer advised a client not to do a deal like the one between the Venetian and NAPT. Mr. Sayre applauds the lawyer for having rendered appropriately conservative advice, even though it purportedly put his client at a competitive disadvantage. More broadly, Sayre warned casinos to stay away from questionable business relationships with Internet gambling companies. Mr. Sayre also highlighted plans for increased scrutiny on proposed business partnerships between Nevada licensees and Internet gaming companies, going forward. He promised to level the playing field, but hedged on the GCB’s position by insisting it would still make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The Venetian reportedly had obtained explicit permission from the Nevada GCB prior to proceeding with plans for the inaugural NAPT. By all accounts, throughout the tournament, Venetian personnel and Poker Stars fans were aglow over the initial collaboration. Venetian and NAPT–related personnel told folks in the waning hours of the inaugural NAPT that they were raring’ to do an encore.

A government affairs lawyer in Carson City has explained, “A few days after the February NAPT event last February, Nevada casino regulators politely and quietly informed the Venetian that permission would not be granted for a second event anytime soon, given the current environment.”

The Makings for a Perfect Storm

The GCB’s post-tournament chat with the Venetian occurred against the backdrop of a clashing timetable between the NAPT event in Las Vegas and the World Poker Tour event in Los Angeles. The discussion played havoc in expansion plans of the NAPT in Las Vegas and effectively eliminated the prospect of a clash occurring this summer—an NAPT Festival at the same time as the WSOP. The mysterious lawyer and his client have not been publicly unidentified except as exemplary complainants.

Over the past three months, the firestorm created by competitive backstabbing of uncertain origin and velocity led to promises by the GCB to level the playing field. During this period the GCB expanded its deliberations on relationships between casino licensees and online gambling entities, keeping the specifics of their discussions under tight wraps.

The GCB Takes Center Stage

The GCB’s May 28 “advisory,” put casinos, online gaming companies and poker players of all stripes—on notice of the extended reach of Nevada regulators as enforcement agents on issues arising from competition among casinos and online gaming partnerships. The GCB suddenly showed itself as bent on taking into new account the relevance of the UIGEA, particularly including the position of the United States Department of Justice.

Historically, many other states have looked to Nevada for guidance in setting up rules and regulations. Nevada’s GCB has made clear in no uncertain terms it intends to change course, significantly altering its previous laissez-faire attitude toward relationships between Nevada casino licensees and internet gaming companies in the current environment of UIGEA regulations.

The Saber Rattling Accelerates

On one issue, Mr. Sayre was emphatic: “The U.S. Department of Justice has shown no indication of relaxing its position that Internet gambling in any form is illegal in the United States.” Lest anyone wondered about the relationship between the GCB and the U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Sayre resolved that question too, saying, “As you are aware, this Board will not disregard the Department of Justice’s interpretation of federal law and the effects that interpretation has on existing state law… I anticipate that the Board’s increased attention directed at this issue will level the commercial playing field as current and proposed relationships are assessed on a property by property basis.”

In recent days, gaming industry lawyers have expressed increasing concern over the GCB letter —— noting that the regulator has made nothing clear except the possibility of a dramatic change from the status quo of the past three years.” (The UIGEA was passed in 2006).

Harrah’s and the PPA Cooperate

Opponents of UIGEA notably include Harrah’s, which owns the WSOP and has a business-to-business deal with 888 Holdings. 888 Holdings operates several substantial gambling websites. 888’s B2B division, Dragonfish, supplies technology and services to facilitate online gaming operations.

Harrah’s registered to lobby for online gaming in early 2009, and since then has made no secret of its game plan: to be in the best possible position to secure a license to operate online gaming activities when, as, and if it becomes legally permissible to do so.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), which boasts a million+ members, including strong support of some of the biggest online poker sites -- has opposed the UIGEA since its inception. Harrah’s and the PPA have worked cooperatively for the past fifteen months in an effort to obtain a “carve out” of poker from UIGEA and/or a more palatable statute that would result in licensed, taxed, and regulated online poker.

Federal Legislation May or May Not Move

A legislative bill favored by both Harrah’s and the PPA has been introduced into the United States House of Representatives by powerful House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank. It is HR 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. His committee, however, has been slow to move it forward.

Latest word from friendly lobbyists is that the bill will be “marked up” by mid-July. They say moving the bill out of Committee is more complicated--a pick’em bet. US Representative James McDermott (WA) has also submitted a companion bill that would require internet gaming companies to pay a federal licensing fee of 2% of customer deposits—monthly. This bill should head toward the Ways and Means Committee, if the Frank bill gets off the ground.

More recently, there has been a whole lot of buzzing about United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s current position toward online gaming. The senior Senator is up for re-election; campaign advisors are said to be divided on the political wisdom of his supporting online gaming legislation this year.

Meanwhile rumors of support have been flying furiously of late. In the past couple of days two casino executives have gone so far as to suggest the Senator may either introduce a bill “favorable to commercial casinos in Nevada or possibly take the Frank bill to the Senate.

However, the general consensus among gaming and regulatory lawyers consulted for this report, is less promising. There is widespread concern that UIGEA is going to have a last hurrah before favorable online gambling bills make their way into enacted federal law.

The GCB Remains on Stage

In the meantime, the evolving stance of the Nevada Gaming Board is more unsettling, as Nevada regulators move to establish more stringent state regulations to address relationships between casinos and online gaming entities in the environment of UIGEA.

For the second time in recent weeks, a foreboding message of peril has been sounded—the last one by an FBI agent, this one by the Nevada GCB. Echoing the FBI agent’s position almost verbatim, GCB board member Randall Sayre said, “The lack of federal criminal prosecutions under UIGEA should not be interpreted by the gaming industry as a lack of interest by state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies on this issue.” He added, “As you are aware, this Board will not disregard the Department of Justice’s interpretation of federal law and the effects that interpretation has on existing state law.”

NAPT Diverts Attention From Previous Announceement of Mid-Summer NAPT Event

Gaming indusrtry lawyers contacted for this article report recent conversaitons with regulators outside Nevada, explaoining states in addition ro Nevada are taking a hard look at the dot.com dotnet distinctions as applied to casino partnerships with onloine gaming entities.

According to the NAPT website in early June, its next event was to take place mid-summer. There is no longer any indication of such an event taking place as evidenced by the napt.com countdown clock which shows its next event 148 days hence at the Bicycle Casino. The NAPT has not issued an explanation for the apparent change in the schedule for the next NAPT event.

Meanwhile, howewver, the inimitable World Series of Poker is in full swing, the Venetian’s top rated card room is packed for its usual Deep Stack summer tournament and the NAPT/ Bicycle Casino’s partnership is gearing up with plans for a home run in the capital of the poker world come November.

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Writer’s Note: This article has been updated and corrects the dates for the NAPT/Los Angeles/Bicycle Casino event and clarifies that the NAPT sponsored by PokerStars.net. The NAPT operates under the banner of Global Poker Tours Ltd (gptl).

Editor’s Note: Ms. Eolis is the CEO of Eolis International Group, an internationally recognized legal/business/government affairs consultancy. She has 40 years of experience in the worldwide gaming industry and in her spare time she has cashed 7 times es at the WSOP; including the first ever for a woman. She was also the first woman to win a No Limit Event at the European Open (1990).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

North American Poker Tour Stops the Clock

The North American Poker Tour (NAPT) has attracted a curious crowd of observers at its website this week. They have fixed their eyes on the steadily ascending number of days on the "NAPT Next Event Count Down Clock."

In an exclusive report last Friday, Poker Player Newspaper reported on NAPT’s advanced discussions with the Bicycle Casino, "NAPT Hovers Over the Bike," but at the NAPT website, the "Next Event Count Down Clock" was showing delays - one day at a time - for a whole week. The countdown meter last Friday indicated 58 days. By Tuesday it had increased to 62 days. Speculation started to develop as to the reasons.

It was time to dig deeper. The digging was fortuitous and the results were surprising. Checking the tournament calendar, the August time-frame for an NAPT event at the Bicycle Casino began to look as bizarre as the strange workings of the NAPT website clock. The long running World Poker Tour / Legends of Poker festivities are on every poker-loving California dreamer’s dance card the whole month!

One conundrum at a time, the mysteries have been unraveled. In a telephone call early yesterday afternoon, Jeffrey Haas, the Managing Director of Global Poker Tour Ltd. (GPTL), reported on the NAPT clock. He figured out the problem almost instantly, explaining there was technical glitch. Apparently, the clock has been ticking off the number of days since the last NAPT event at Mohegan Sun, instead of the number of days until the next NAPT event.

Mr. Haas arranged for the clock to be taken down for repair promptly. Later in the day he assured, "This issue has now been fixed and the responsible programmer appropriately punished." He continues, "On behalf of our programmers and the NAPT, I apologize for upsetting the space time continuum and causing any undue consternation. I assure you the NAPT is alive and well, and we look forward to sharing some bright news very soon."

Bright news may or may not materialize momentarily, but, there is no doubt that the peripatetic Managing Director Jeffery Haas has plans to fast-track the growth of the NAPT around the country.

It is time to re-check the NAPT's progress with the Bicycle Casino. Marketing Director Kelly O’Hara has just returned from vacation. When asked about the Casino's dealings with NAPT, she says, “The prospect of an NAPT event is a very exciting opportunity. I think it has a lot of potential." Ms. O’Hara acknowledges, "Yes, we have had serious discussions with the NAPT, but at this time I can assure you that nothing has been inked." When pressed as to whether “wheels up” in August might mean a signed deal for a future NAPT event, you can feel her smile. She makes clear, at the Bicycle Casino in August, we will be "wheels up" with the fabulous World Poker Tour/Legends of Poker event throughout the month."

As of this writing, the NAPT Website Countdown Clock is out of sight, and the website remains mum as to the next venue. There has been no explanation for why the clock was ever operational while the venue identity was left blank.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Poker Stars Hovers Over the Bicycle Club and Casino

Yesterday, the Nevada Gaming Control Board ("GCB") raised the curtain on its evolving policy toward relationships between casinos and online gambling companies.

In its publicly posted reply to an unidentified gaming attorney’s inquiry, more than a month earlier, the GCB let it be known it is paying closer attention than ever before to the distinction between dot-net and dot-com poker sites and their respective connections with Nevada casinos.

The spotlight on this issue at the GCB was apparently fueled by complaints from various casino licensees and their lawyers over the questionable partnership between the Venetian Hotel and Casino with Poker Stars, for the inaugural of the North American Poker Tour in Las Vegas, some three months ago.

According to a Carson City government affairs lawyer, "A few days after the North American Poker Tour ("NAPT") event last February—the Nevada GCB politely and quietly informed the Venetian, permission would not be granted for a second event, anytime soon." The dots were well connected in the GCB posted letter on the regulatory authority’s website, yesterday.

The Venetian reportedly obtained permission from the Nevada GCB prior to proceeding with plans for the inaugural NAPT. By all accounts, throughout the tournament, both Venetian and Poker Stars honchos were aglow over the initial collaboration. Word around town was that they were rarin’ to do an encore this summer.

Meanwhile, the highly regarded Venetian Poker Room is packed for its popular Deep Stack summer tournaments and online giant Poker Stars appears to be fully engaged in preparing for the next NAPT event.

A well-informed gaming official asserts (on the condition of no attribution) that "Poker Stars has embraced the Bicycle Casino and Card Club for its next NAPT Festival." He says it is slated for "wheels up" on or about August 1st. The NAPT countdown meter shows 58 days until the next event. The website remains mum as to the venue.

Look for my eye-opening report on the current state of affairs of online gambling issues and the inside scoop on why the status quo may soon be turned on its head—one way or the other in the June 21st cover date issue available in poker rooms everywhere on June 8th.

Editor’s Note: Wendeen H. Eolis is an internationally recognized legal/government affairs consultant with extensive experience in the gaming industry. In her spare time she has cashed seven times at the World Series of Poker.

Friday, December 25, 2009

What's the big Deal about fidelity?

As the unending reports of Tiger’s Woods’ purported dalliances continue to unravel, philanderers of all stripes are taking stock. Even those who never much worried about getting caught, now worry that Tiger’s self-indulgence is giving extramarital sex a bad name.

I, for one, refuse to pass judgment upon the private issues between spouses or the conditions under which infidelity is triggered. At the same time, I am convinced that most of the public has missed two central issues: the first is that fidelity is not necessarily part of a person’s DNA.

Restraint against self-indulgence at the expense of others is a cognitive decision based upon either one’s basic belief system or on the fear of losing something more important than momentary delight in the success of a risky conquest. .

This week’s People Reading Workshop at Eolis Institute for People Reading puts the onus on YOU to take responsibility for decoding the behavior of a spouse and making conscious decisions about whether fidelity is a big deal to you.

The two-hour work shop uses to key principles in Eolis 12 Step People Reading System to put you on the right track to discerning and responding to lapses in infidelity—from the bedroom to the boardroom!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Early New Year's Resolutions

This month, I am beginning to focus on my New Year’s resolutions for 2010, hoping I’ll get the hang of making some significant and definitive changes and will stay serious them in the upcoming year.

For starters:

1. I shall keep the pots and pans I use most within reach so I can cook healthy meals regularly—without stretching

2. I shall keep every last taxi receipt so I can finally qualify for a tax break on one petty cash item I invariably forget when handing over the shoebox of cash receipts, come January.

3. In keeping with more frugal practices, I shall read my online edition of the New York Times for free as long as I can, ahead of time, instead of racing to a power breakfast haunt where I tip twice the price of a newsstand copy, for a free one!

4. I shall pay attention in every poker game, to the tells I teach and continue to study verbal and non verbal conduct for work, but give up funky poker games at home.

5. I shall walk in Central Park, come rain, snow or shine and smell the trees and shrubs and soil, cast a loving gaze on the statuary, and energize the soul with walks up Castle Hill—daily.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Life is Good

I've been living life in a fast lane lately — commuting regularly between business in New York and family all around the UK, with side trips to the World Series of Poker - Europe and a friendly no-limit home game in Manhattan. The score is 4 round-trips in 8 weeks; I'm happy to report plus results on all fronts — in business, politics, poker, and all manner of personal affairs.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Barney Frank Raises the Ante

Note: This article appears in the current edition of Poker Player (08/03/09), currently available at pokerplayernewspaper.com

Just beyond the elegant glass doors of the Palazzo Suite, a representative of the Poker Player Alliance stood at attention—eyeing the arriving crowd for possible crashers. United States Representative Barney Frank was scheduled to hold forth at a fundraising reception for heavy hitters—down the hall.

As Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Frank is one of the country’s most visible lawmakers. He is also widely regarded as online poker’s best friend. PPA members of suitable pedigree and/or cash were invited to rub shoulders with him.

A Newsworthy Party

A grassroots organization that includes online and offline poker players from all walks of life, the PPA organized a fundraising reception as part of Chairman Frank’s visit to the 2009 World Series of Poker and the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. I had previously interviewed the Congressman and had met him at other gatherings. I found him to be a straight shooter.

As a PPA member and a supporter of Mr. Frank’s stance on civil liberties, I have opened up my checkbook to him and said, “Count me in.” I attended the fundraiser for Mr. Frank as a guest; I left inspired to write about the link he has made between online poker and politics. I concluded he was the WSOP Nation’s most compelling newsmaker of the day.

UIGEA History

In October 2006, President Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) into law. In 2007, Mr. Frank introduced a bill that would effectively undo UIGEA, but it never made its way out of Committee. In late 2008, regulations to implement UIGEA were promulgated; compliance was set for December 2009.

Following the 2008 presidential election, Mr. Frank became Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He continues to champion legislation that highlights civil liberties. And in keeping with his commitment to attack governmental interference that suppresses Constitutional rights he continues to embrace the rights of adults to play poker online.

New Plan of Attack

Mr. Frank is the author of two bills of special interest to online poker enthusiasts: H.R.2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2009 that would effectively turn the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 on its head (except with regard to sports bets), and H.R.2266, the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act, which would delay industry compliance with UIGEA regulations that are currently set to become effective at the end of this year.

Politician’s Dance Card

The Chairman’s full day WSOP visit was a whirlwind of activity. The crowd in the Palazzo Suites was presumably his last stop and reflected a strong showing of pros associated with Full Tilt Poker and Poker Stars. Sources close to the PPA say these two companies are the movers and shakers behind the PPA’s various lobbying efforts and their players are key supporters of Mr. Frank’s current online poker-related bills.

Earlier in the day, Congressman Frank visited the WSOP’s Amazon Room. Introduced by WSOP President and Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, the Harvard-educated lawmaker gave a short pep talk to the day’s main event players on the politics of online poker. He ended his remarks with the “Shuffle up and deal,” command that starts each WSOP tournament.

Moving on to a scheduled press conference, Frank drew only a small group of reporters, presumably because a more hyped press event was about to take place. 1989 WSOP Champion and eleven-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth’s anticipated grand entrance to the Main Event—as Caesar—was expected during the same time slot.

Frank described his two bills that would interest online poker players. The more publicized bill, H.R.2267, calls for licensing, taxing, and regulating online gambling operations. The other bill is H.R.2266, which delays enforcement of UIGEA regulations. Of the two bills, Mr. Frank expressed more confidence in near-term passage for H.R.2266.

Throughout his visit, Frank exhorted online poker players to become activists for their cause. He urged them to vote and to support elected representatives who are on the right side of the online gambling debates. He was blunt in insisting that poker players must do the work to move these bills forward. He hammered the point, declaring he will not stump for passage of H.R.2667 all by himself.

Frank Hits His Stride

Sporting a short-sleeved shirt outside his trousers, Chairman Frank orated, pontificated, cajoled, and pressed poker players to get involved in preserving their civil liberties, using online poker as a platform for his mantra.

At the late afternoon fundraiser the New Jersey born Congressman, who has long called Massachusetts home, drew immediate applause with his pronouncement of UIGEA as both “stupid and wrong.” The staunch civil libertarian espoused the importance of preserving basic freedoms.

Mr. Frank then shifted gears, clarifying that he has no current intention of supporting the PPA’s desire for a “poker carve-out” in his current bill. He didn’t do so in his last bill, either. He spoke of his solid commitment to tie online poker and casino games together in his quest to undo the constraints of UIGEA.

Disappointed with his stance, one agitated player began to opine on poker as a game of skill and suggested it might be easier to get a bill passed that focused only on poker. Barney Frank’s face turned beet red. The Chairman pounced on the opportunity to challenge his critic, suggesting that he rethink his values and support the goals of a sincere civil libertarian—while virtually dismissing the argument of poker as a game of skill. The Chairman declared that no one he knows cares about online gambling legislation that distinguishes poker from casino table games.

Taking the rhetoric down a notch, Mr. Frank suggested that it made sense, at least for the moment, to relax dogged pursuit of special treatment for online poker, in favor of a “poker plus” strategy that would respond as positively to the civil liberties issue that affects online gamblers in table games, as well.

Charging up the hill once more, Chairman Frank pushed the PPA to send a veritable army of voters to call, write, and visit their representatives in search of support for the H.R.2267. He returned to his central theme of the day—online poker enthusiasts will help the bill to succeed only by joining his fight to protect civil liberties under attack by UIGEA.

Reminding everyone of the urgent economic issues that occupy the preponderance of his time, Mr. Frank also warned that he is not going to chase after his colleagues to get this bill rolling. It will be up to the players to lead the way in marshalling support.

The Bottom Line

Before leaving his audience, the sober talking Chairman put out some good news. Barney Frank reassured his supporters that he is truly on their side—ready to pay serious attention to H.R. 2267. He even offered up a timetable to move forward with Committee hearings—hopefully in the early fall. And his eyes twinkled again as he expressed hopes for passage of his bill in the not too distant future.

In the interim, Mr. Frank has his eye on H.R. 2266—which delays compliance with the UIGEA regulations—for at least another year. He reminds his listeners that passage of H.R.2266 will protect online gamblers from a tightened noose while long term legislative solutions can be locked into place.

His tough-love message notwithstanding, Barney Frank departed the Palazzo Suites as online poker’s most powerful friend. Chairman Frank apparently felt no special need to prod the industry to wax poetic about the economic benefits to the government of H.R.2267’s provisions to license, tax and regulate online gambling. It was the civil liberties issue he was intent on driving home.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of material Wendeen Eolis may use in an updated publication of Power Poker Dame.
Ms. Eolis is the CEO of Eolis International Group, a legal/government affairs consultancy that recommended special counsel to a federal government agency reviewing“ midnight regulations” of late last year, UIGEA among them. EOLIS has since authored a related report in conjunction with advice the law firm is providing to the Obama Administration. Ms. Eolis was the first woman to cash in the final event of the World Series of Poker She had her 7th cash at the 2009 WSOP.


Posted by Wendeen H. Eolis