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Thanks to Overregulation, Online Poker is at Crossroads

The golden days of online poker are long gone. During the early 2000s, the poker boom has fueled imaginations of hundreds of thousands players across the globe, bringing them to the virtual felt. Over the years, however, the craze died off and online poker has started to experience a decline in popularity, struggling to keep up.

Today, one of the main things poker and online gambling in general have to deal with could best be defined as overregulation. Namely, many countries are starting to introduce new laws and rules, restricting what’s used to be the favorite pastime of many. There are numerous examples of overregulation out there, putting online poker in a very peculiar position. If it is to survive and strive, it needs to take a different road, and it is far from an oft traveled road.

United States of America

The USA was one of the first countries that really came out against online poker and online gambling. With the UIGEA and other laws making it virtually impossible for the players to move money to and from gambling sites, once a huge poker market was reduced to a fraction of its previous size.

The US Department of Justice and other bodies made sure that no big poker sites would ever cater to American players after the events of Black Friday, which opened risky but potentially lucrative prospects for smaller rooms.

However, although they might have been able to stay off the radar, these online poker rooms were facing all the same problems the big guns had to deal with. Accepting players’ deposits and processing their withdrawals in a timely manner was a very real and important obstacle.

The emergence of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies later on was the solution that no one could even imagine. Online poker rooms catering to US players were among early business adopters of Bitcoin, realizing this latest invention offered solutions to practically all of their problems. Bitcoin deposits were fast, secure, and impossible to track or restrict.

Today, the situation in the United States could best be described as a status quo when it comes to online poker and gambling. Apart from the few states that regulated these activities with their own borders, there are no real prospects of a federal bill in the near future. Thus, it seems that online poker might be at important crossroads, deciding whether going full speed ahead with cryptocurrencies is what needs to be done.

United Kingdom

Over the past few years, the United Kingdom has started to change its gambling regulations, looking to create a much stricter framework and severely limit the reach and the influence of online gambling operators. In terms of online poker specifically, the UK is still fairly lax, because they have a bigger fish to fry, so to speak. However, it seems to be just the matter of time.

Right now, the UK Gambling Commission and other relevant bodies, such as Advertising Standards Authority, are going all out to create a much more regulated gambling environment. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing as no one can deny that proper oversight and control are necessary. However, if it reaches the point of overregulation, players in the UK might find themselves in a similar situation like the ones in the United States.

Whether UK lawmakers will be able and willing to make a distinction between online poker, as a game that involves a lot of skill, and online gambling activities that rely purely on luck, remains to be seen. Either way, the next couple of years could be of great significance.

Australia

Traditionally, Australia has always been a place where poker and gambling were hugely popular and in high demand. That’s why new laws in the country came as somewhat of a surprise. For years, Australia was fairly liberal in all things gambling and although online gambling was technically prohibited, Aussies could play wherever they wanted as long as the sites were willing to accept them. Until recently, all big poker and gambling sites were thus open to Australians.

However, in 2016, things started to change. By 2017, new regulations were in place, introducing many limitations, similar to those found in the UK. While some of these are good for online gamblers, there is also the stipulation that prohibits all sites without a local license to offer their service to Australian players. This forced many big poker rooms out of the country, primarily PokerStars and 888poker, leaving Aussies who wanted to play in dire straits.

Right now, it seems that Australia is also facing the issue of overregulation, which could lead to offshore poker and gambling sites accepting Bitcoin to enter the market. In fact, it seems more and more like taking on cryptocurrencies might be the right move for all poker rooms, giving them independence and freedom from overly restrictive laws.

Of course, it’s hard to see big publicly-traded online poker companies going down this path, as there is too much at stake for them and their shareholders might not be too keen about the idea. However, for smaller rooms looking to win their share of the market, this might just be the answer. Simultaneously, it could be an impetus for a new poker boom, albeit a much smaller one than what we had in the early and mid-2000s.

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Updated: April 6, 2018 — 10:32 am
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