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Will all online casinos close my accounts?

16 October 2006

Dear John,

I appreciate all your insight and expertise always. Maybe you can shed some light on an issue that will greatly impact players in the U.S. Lately I have been receiving e-mails from the various online casinos in which I am a member stating the closure of my account. Here is a copy of one of those emails (with the account info deleted).

Dear Ashlee,

Due to the recent passing of the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act by the United States Senate on September 30, 2006, and its imminent enactment as federal law, we will no longer allow real money gaming activities from United States residents.

We regret to inform you that, consequently, we are closing your gaming account at....

Your balance is available to you. You may access your account and request the withdrawal of such balance, subject to conditions that might apply, including bonuses received.

We appreciate your patronage, and apologize for any inconvenience caused. We hope to be able to offer to you our services again in the future.

I have only received this notice from three of the casinos I joined in the past. Why haven't I received this notice from all if in fact it is a federal law? Or will I be receiving such notices by all sometime in the near future? What does this mean for players in the U.S.?

Thank you,
Ashlee

Dear Ashlee,

I've been able to keep politics out of this column for many years, but now I won't be able to.

I think this act shows the worst aspects of how some laws get enacted in the United States. The act was tacked onto a completely unrelated bill, the Safe Port Act, a reprehensible practice that I think should be banned. How can a congressman vote against a good act when there is a bad one riding along with it? Representatives could have voted against the Safe Port Act because of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act riding along with it, but they will then forever have to explain why they voted against safer ports.

An act should have enough merits to be enacted standing on its own. If it can only get passed when tacked onto another act, then there is something wrong with it. I don't know of any studies looking at the merits of tacked on bills, so I'm going to assume that the only acts that get tacked on are acts that cannot can get passed on their own, like this act, pork, special entitlements, etc. But again, this is only my assumption and it may not be true. If anyone knows of any studies that list the wonderful laws we have that were tacked onto other acts, I'd like to know about them.

I find it hard to believe that the fact that millions of Americans want to be able to gamble online was completely ignored. It's just another example of a minority trying to impose their views on the majority instead of allowing everyone to have the ability to choose. Is this the 21st century's version of Prohibition?

The articles by I. Nelson Rose on this site are your best source of information about this act and its implications. His latest article about the act is The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 Analyzed.

The beginning of Professor Rose's analysis of the first section of the act gives you an idea of the merits of the act: "The Act begins with Congress's findings and purpose. These include a recommendation from the discredited National Gambling Impact Study Commission, whose chair was the right-wing, Republican incompetent, Kay Coles James. Findings include the doubtful assertion that Internet gambling is a growing problem for banks and credit card companies."

So, the act is partially based on questionable findings from a discredited commission with an incompetent chair. Worse still, "the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was rammed through Congress by the Republican leadership in the final minutes before the election period recess. According to Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), no one on the Senate-House Conference Committee had even seen the final language of the bill."

How can a representative make a rational decision on a bill they haven't read? Say what you will about Michael Moore, one very disturbing revelation in Fahrenheit 911 was the one by the congressman who said that our elected representatives do not have the time to read all the bills on which they have to vote.

Again quoting Professor Rose:

This section of the Act ends with a limitation, that, frankly, makes no sense. It says that, after all the talk of getting court orders to prevent restricted transactions, "no provision of this subchapter shall be construed as authorizing" anyone "to institute proceedings to prevent or restrain a restricted transaction against any financial transaction provider, to the extent that the person is acting as a financial transaction provider." This could be a typo, since the bill was rushed through without an opportunity to even be read. Or perhaps it means that banks can be ordered to not transfer money to gambling sites, but only if they know about it. It is indecipherable.

This isn't law yet because the president has not signed it. But there is no doubt that he will.

What does this mean to players? I don't think the bill targets players, only the casinos and payment processors. You will still be able to wager real money online, but it will be much more difficult for you to fund the account. Also, as you've discovered, many online casinos may refuse bets from the U.S. so their executives and employees can travel to the U.S. without getting arrested.

I have never played for real money online, but I know many people who have. Just as in the physical casino, the vast majority of these people played for recreation and only a very few had real financial troubles because of their gambling. I don't know that the percentage of problem gamblers online is any different than that in the physical casinos. I don't think that the availability of online gambling has led to legions of people gambling away everything they own in their pajamas.

A real problem, though, is preventing underage gambling. A recent spot on 60 Minutes showed the teenage son of the spot's producer trying to register at online casinos. The casino operator featured in the spot claimed that technology on his site prevents most, if not all, underage gambling. Sure enough, his site rejected the kid's application, but others did not.

Here's the real solution to online gambling. It should be legalized, regulated and taxed. I think most U.S. online gamblers would prefer to deal with a site that is subject to US regulations. I think most of the major U.S. gaming companies would love to offer online gambling. Their additional profits would then be taxed.

Finally, I just want to remind everyone that we will have another chance to choose our representatives in just a few weeks. Let your votes express your pleasure or displeasure with what your representatives have done.

Best of luck in and out of the casinos,
John


Send your slot and video poker questions to John Robison, Slot Expert, at slotexpert@comcast.net. Because of the volume of mail I receive, I regret that I can't send a reply to every question. Also be advised that it may take several months for your question to appear in my column.

John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots