On 21 December 2011, the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously to implement a comprehensive regulatory framework for in-state online poker sites. The framework codifies rules, requirements, and restrictions that will apply to legal Nevada poker sites beginning in January 2012.
Nevada is now the first state in America to create a legitimate online poker market. Many view Nevada as a ‘test case’ for future legislation at the federal level. If all goes well, a legal and regulated online poker market could become a reality in the USA sooner than anyone thought.
The NGC spent four months fine-tuning a series of amendments that update existing law to accommodate “interactive gaming” – i.e. legal online poker – in Nevada. The bulk of the language dealing with poker is found in amendments to Regulations 5 and 5A.
Amendments to Regulation 5: Licensing and Obligations to Operators
The language added to Reg. 5 deals mainly with procedures and protocols related to operating an interactive gaming site. Among other things, the amendments state that:
Legal online poker in Nevada would be restricted to NGC-licensed sites only. This means that playing on unlicensed sites would be prohibited for players, and serving Nevada players as an unlicensed site would be prohibited for operators.
Legal Nevada / Las Vegas poker sites would be subject to a strict and thorough application procedure before any license is granted.
Operators must pay an application fee of $150 and an investigative fee of $2,500 before an application will even be considered.
To summarize, the amendments to Reg. 5 make licensed poker rooms legal in Nevada, and make unlicensed poker rooms illegal. Most of the rules governing the details of play appear in Reg. 5A.
Amendments to Regulation 5A: Operational Procedures and Rules
The language added to Reg. 5A forms the meat of the NGC framework, dealing with the rules of financial transactions, gameplay, and information handling. Key points are:
Strict sign-up requirements for operators and players alike. Operators must obtain proof of identity, date of birth (21+ only), a social security number, and a history of self-exclusions for each new sign-up. Operators have 30 days to verify the legitimacy of this information, or else face a reprimand from the NGC
Operators must keep comprehensive logs for each player detailing the locations from which gaming accounts are accessed. This is meant to ensure that online poker in Nevada stays in Nevada for now.
Players will be able to deposit via state-approved methods only. These include cash, personal check, cashier’s check, wire transfer, money order, transfers from an existing account with an operator, or debits from a bank account or credit card. Deposits can be made either in person at a licensed operator’s brick-and-mortar location or online.
Interestingly, player-to-player transfers will be disallowed at all legal Nevada poker sites. This is presumably to prevent fraud and money laundering. It will essentially make staking impossible at state-licensed sites.
Operators are explicitly forbidden from employing “stakes players, proposition players or shills”.
These are the major points in Reg. 5A, although all players would do well to read the regulation in full. The amendments provide a promising glimpse into a future where online poker is legal and accepted by the mainstream of society.
Gaming industry insiders, including lawyers and casino executives, think that these regulations will act as a model from which the Federal government will draw in its own regulation efforts. The US Government will hopefully watch Nevada closely in the coming months as the first legal poker sites come online, and will improve on Nevada’s regulations when legalizing poker at the Federal level.
It’s impossible to give an exact date for when the first legal Las Vegas poker sites will come online in 2012 or even 2013. However the NGC has confirmed that 5 gaming companies have already applied for online poker licenses, and may be operational very soon pending NGC approval. Companies waiting for approval include well-known online poker operator 888 Poker and world-famous Vegas slots manufacturer IGT.
There is speculation that the bulk of licenses will be handed out to companies with existing brick-and-mortar presences in Nevada. Land-based casinos and resorts in particular stand to do well over the course of the transition to online operations. Many believe that this will result in fruitful partnerships between established online poker companies and popular Vegas resorts.