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EDITORIAL: State Should Legalize, Regulate Online Poker

6/23/10 - Monterey County Herald - View Source

The modern approach to fighting so-called victimless crimes and mankind's various vices often amounts to legalizing it, regulating it and taxing it. It's a philosophy that starts with the words "If they're going to do it anyway..."

But even so, there are times when it may be wisest to take the modern approach, even if it is not the character-building approach. Californians will be asked to vote this fall on whether now is the time to take that approach to marijuana, and California legislators will be asked in the coming weeks to decide whether it is time to legalize another form of gambling.

We have not studied the pros and cons thoroughly enough to weigh in on the marijuana question, but we do support the legislation that would establish a state-controlled Internet poker operation.

As it stands, an estimated 2 million Californians are playing computerized poker in games based overseas, beyond U.S. laws. Operators of the games have been playing cat-and-mouse games as federal officials attempt to bring them under control by making it difficult for the gamblers and the operators to exchange money, but the operations thrive.

There have been few reports of the offshore businesses cheating American players out of their winnings, but the gamblers have no way of knowing whether the operators are cheating them in undetectable ways, such as allowing favored bettors to see the cards of others at the virtual tables.

Legislation by state Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, would legalize online poker for California adults and would give enforcement powers to the California Attorney General's office to prevent such collusion and create age-verification systems to keep minors off the tables. The state Department of Justice also would be empowered to make sure winning players received their payouts quickly and accurately.

Those controls are key to our support, and so is the plan to tax the flow of money. The best guess is that it would bring in about $500million annually—not nearly enough to balance the books, but nothing to sneeze at in a state that is severely overextended.

It is important that the games be attractive enough to wean gamblers away from and the like, which are hugely popular and heavily promoted. And more important, the money should be earmarked for specific purposes, such as health care or education, partly to help ensure that the tax income is carefully tracked and monitored. The intended recipients would have strong motive to play watchdog.

Protecting Children
Compulsive Gambling Safeguards
Secure Financial Transactions
New Government Revenues
Regulated and Licensed Environment
International Ramifications
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