Florida report - no real new news

Questionable conclusion on compulsive gambling

The study ordered by the Florida legislature to inform its decisions on the legalisation of online poker was delivered to the legislature by the state's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability last week (see previous InfoPowa report) and is expected to be presented to the state Senate by the end of November. Perhaps inevitably, it appeared this week that some of the contents had been leaked.

Running to 12 pages, the report makes the unsurprising finding that the state's lawmakers are faced with three choices: do nothing and await federal level legalisation; pass a law expressly banning online poker, or take the initiative and pass laws to legalise it in the state of Florida.

The report examines the implications of each course of action, commenting that the federal option is unlikely to establish the additional consumer protection that Florida might wish for, and that there are uncertainties over whether a legalisative attempt at federal level would be successful anyway.

Actively prohibiting online poker, on the other hand, was fraught with difficulties regarding effective enforcement but could ameliorate the dangers of compulsive gambling. Here the impartiality of the study slips to some extent, quoting unidentified 'opponents of gambling expansion' as claiming that Internet gambling addiction rates are 'three to four times higher' than conventional offline gambling. This claim is highly arguable with well documented scientific studies by respected institutions, yet this does not appear to have been explored in greater depth.

The third choice - legalising online poker at state level - offers the advantage of more closely meeting Florida's regulatory wishes, and the possibility of raising tax revenues. However, in this area too the study reaches some puzzling conclusions, commenting that ‘expanding authorized gambling in the state to include Internet gambling could generate revenue', but noting that 'at this time no objective estimates exist to assess potential state revenues.’ This flies in the face of an estimate of $90 million a year in tax income which was submitted to the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability recently by the Poker Voters of America after being independently assessed by the H2 Consultancy.

Much of the report deals with the present laws governing online gambling at federal and state level, noting that although there are federal claims that it is illegal throughout the United States through the outdated Wire Act, Florida state law '...does not expressly prohibit Internet Gambling.' However, it notes that in the opinion of the Florida state Attorney General '...the Wire Act provisions, in combination with state law, prohibit an individual from placing a bet or wager by wire communication or via the Internet.’

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