This past November Nate Silver became a media darling after correctly predicting the results of the U.S. Presidential election in all 50 states on his FiveThirtyEight blog. As Barack Obama was basking in the glow of a second term, Silver found himself on The Daily Show, The Today Show and Real Time with Bill Maher talking numbers and politics.
Back before he started his now famous blog, Silver was working hard helping to manage Baseball Prospectus and playing poker online. The two endeavors allowed him to make a decent living using his analytical skills.
With the next federal election some 45 months away Silver is taking some well deserved time off and is in Melbourne at the 2013 Aussie Millions playing his first real poker tournament since the 2011 WSOP. Even though he’s been away from the tables he has stayed in touch with the poker world and has closely followed the online poker legislation efforts in the United States.
His forecast for online poker federal legislation any time soon isn’t good.
“It’s a flush draw. It’s not impossible. The fact that (the UIGEA) was snuck in last minute means you could have some parallel thing happen but the safer bet is if it gets legalized in Nevada or New Jersey or California then you can move to one of those states,” Silver said the day before playing in the Aussie Millions Main Event. “If those states are together that’s a pretty significant population I think, but we’ll see.”
Silver’s skepticism about the passing of a federal bill comes from, not surprisingly, looking at the numbers and analysis of the political landscape. The polarization of the political bodies is a huge factor and one that makes any real movement on any issue difficult to predict.
“The number of laws passed in the most recent Congress was a 200-year low pretty much. You have a divide between Congress and the Presidency, actually have a divide between the Senate and the House, even within the house the Republicans are practically divided between the Tea Partiers and the mainstream Republicans. So that’s very difficult to get anything done at all,” Silver said.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Silver sees online poker coming to the United States in a piecemeal fashion as more and more states see the opportunity to grab easy tax and licensing revenue.
“I tend to think it will be more of the bottom-up approach where different states band together and it becomes more socially acceptable and they have inter-state compacts and more and more states are doing it as a source of revenue,” said Silver. “I think that’s the more likely path than tomorrow they’re going to spontaneously pass a bill that makes PokerStars legal in the United States.
As states like Nevada, New Jersey and California inch closer to offering regulated online poker to their citizens Silver sees a chance for positive momentum for the rest of the country.
“I think that poker players, even if they’re not based in Nevada or New Jersey, should be rooting those sites to do really well so that it becomes a big source of revenue for those states,” said Silver. “You have reputable brands making really attractive sites and being very careful about monitoring collusion and cheating and paying out people promptly. You hope that they really do invest a lot of time in making those products good so that it becomes a positive example for other states to follow.”
While the poker community waits patiently for regulated online poker, Silver thinks that most states already have a framework in place: the lottery. The real catalyst for regulation will come as societal norms change to accept gambling the way they have Powerball or scratch and win tickets.
“I think the lottery itself is an example of any opposition to poker on moral grounds is totally hypocritical, even if you say it’s gambling and not a game of skill, it’s completely hypocritical when every state but a couple have a lottery in place,” said Silver.
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