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The National Council on Problem Gambling and the Online Poker Industry[ return to main articles page ]

By: Dan Cypra    [See all articles by Dan Cypra]
Published on Feb 21st, 2008
The National Council on Problem Gambling, according to its website, is "the national advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families. The mission of the NCPG is to increase public awareness of pathological gambling, ensure the widespread availability of treatment for problem gamblers and their families, and to encourage research and programs for prevention and education." Its Executive Director, Keith Whyte, was a past guest on the PocketFives.com Podcast. The organization finds itself, like the online poker industry, stuck in a grey area with the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and development of the bill's enforcement regulations. PocketFives.com sat down with Whyte to get his take on recent industry developments.

Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, H.R. 2046. While many online poker players were uncomfortable with the bill's deferment to states on the issue of legalized internet gambling, Whyte was focused on the lack of support for proper safeguards against problem gambling: "The bill is silent. It's all left to regulation that is handled by the Department of the Treasury, who knows nothing about problem gaming. Moreover, there is no funding mechanism. We understand the money part was deliberately left out, but in general, you should put your money where your mouth is." It's important to note that the NCPG is neutral with regards to supporting a bill or not. In fact, over the last 30 years, the organization has taken a stance on exactly two bills; both included issues that directly affected problem gambling.

In regards to Congressman Robert Wexler's (D-FL) introduction of H.R. 2610, the Skill Game Protection Act, Whyte offered the following: "The bill could result in a mass expansion of gambling, but as the bill says, poker isn't gambling. There is some good rhetoric about gambling problems, but, again, there is no funding mechanism. They pay lip service to responsible gambling, but there's no direct tie."

So why would both H.R. 2046 and H.R. 2610 not have clear provisions for problem gamblers? It's a deep social issue, right? Whyte explains his answer, "Perhaps a consequence of our neutrality is that we're not up there lobbying on these bills. That's not really our job. We're the advocate for responsible gamblers. It should be such a fundamental part of gaming regulation that it's a detriment to each of the bills that it's not included. In other countries, this would be developed by a gambling commission or government agency. In the U.S., our regulatory agencies aren't involved in problem gambling."

Another recent development centers on the World Trade Organization, which has been at the center of a tug of war between the U.S., European Union, and Antigua. The situation has become increasingly muddled and, like the rest of us, Whyte is frustrated: "We would hope the United States would take a clear, consistent, logical position on internet gambling. Unfortunately, the current administration hasn't created anything to help clear the muddy water. We know lots of Americans gamble online, a lot of problem gamblers gamble online, and the approach to see it as a law enforcement issue rather than a public health issue will create as many difficulties as it purports to solve in the long run. We would certainly hope the law would be clear and consistent. The longer it stays in this gray area, the fewer protections there are for minors and people with gambling problems.

The uncertainly surrounding the future regulatory environments of online poker and online gambling has made it increasingly difficult for the NCPG to act. Whyte explains, "The situation right now creates a lot of confusion and uncertainty among gamblers. It prevents us from moving forward with policy solutions. It hinders us because, right now, we're reactive instead of proactive. It shows up because problem gambling is an afterthought in these bills, but still at the forefront of the minds of many Congressmen."

Meanwhile, the Poker Players Alliance has stepped up on behalf of the online poker world and become extremely active in pushing H.R. 2046 and/or H.R. 2610 through to law. Whyte has been in touch with PPA Executive Director John Pappas and offered the following: "We've have had some very good discussions with the PPA. I suggested that they should use their Board members to create public service announcements for problem gambling awareness. The vast majority of players look up to some of these pros [like Greg Raymer and Annie Duke]. Kids can identify World Series of Poker champs, which is important. I think it would send a powerful message."

In the meantime, the NCPG continues to raise awareness on problem gambling and its effects. Check out the organization's website at www.ncpgambling.org. A special thanks to Keith Whyte for taking the time to talk with PocketFives.com.
 

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