With the federal government having shut down the three largest and most trusted online poker sites earlier this year, there are a lot of high-rolling poker players out there looking for a safe place to gamble online. And D.C.’s ostensibly legal online gambling initiative, aka “iGaming,” might well attract some big fish, right?
Well, poker legend Phil Hellmuth won’t be one of them. The “poker brat,” winner of 11 World Series of Poker bracelets and Hall of Fame inductee, said the District’s plan doesn’t have much to offer the professional gambler.
Hellmuth, doing media interviews to promote his new iPhone app for poker players, said there are hundreds of thousands of American gamblers looking for a safe and reliable online poker option after the shuttering of Poker Stars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker, but having a system accessible only within the District might fatally limit its appeal.
“I still think that people are looking for a place to play poker and it wouldn’t be surprising if you had a lot more players than you think start playing,” he said. “It’s a nice test, sure, but I think there’s so few people [in D.C.], 600,000, that you might not achieve critical mass for players on the site under those conditions.”
Early on, he said, some pros might be tempted by a fresh population of weak players, but the low stakes mean it wouldn’t be worth the professional’s time.
But Hellmuth said that the District would be wise to lobby for a federal legalization of online poker, which could allow it to tax a cut of gambling proceeds. Hellmuth is part of FairPlayUSA, a coalition asking Congress to legalize and provide a “strict regulatory framework” for online poker.
Allowing the private poker market to thrive, he said, is the foolproof way for governments to make money off gamblers: “The states have to ask themselves, how are they going to make money? Are they going to invest millions in software, hire a bunch of people and end up in a situation where they don’t recoup their money for three or four years?” he said. “Or do they just start taxing it right away, and make decamillions from the start?”
For the record, D.C. Lottery director Buddy Roogow told the Associated Press earlier this year he’s not concerned that pros might not be interested in the “iGaming” system: “We believe there’s a much larger component of social, recreational and casual players who will be interested in a lower-stakes platform.”