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The US state of Florida's current review of gambling laws may provide a tenuous foothold for the legalisation of online poker if some lawmakers have their way.
Last week the Florida Senate Gaming Committee discussed the draft of an upcoming gaming reform bill scheduled for introduction during the 2014 legislative session. The draft includes some of the recommendations of a $400,000 independent consultant's study of the Florida gambling industry as a whole.
The plan is to develop consensus on a bill that will comprehensively bring Florida gambling law up to date, operating under a gaming commission that will have authority over all gambling except the state lottery.
There is a recommendation that the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which currently regulates land poker rooms, horse and dog racing, and slot machine facilities should fall under the new gaming commission, and that existing statutes be updated to achieve this and include new gaming activities.
That "new gaming activities" phrase gave some lawmakers an opportunity to suggest the inclusion in the reform bill of provisions for legalised, taxed and regulated intrastate online poker, following the example of successful legalisation in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey recently.
Several senators discussed the inclusion of online poker in the draft bill, noting that it was a game predominantly of skill that should fall outside the definition of illegal gambling.
However, observers have noted that there is only a small chance of the genre being included in the bill, which already faces opposition to any expansion of gambling activity and is being debated in an election year, where politicians tend to be wary of offending action groups and public opinion.
In this sort of climate the suggestion has been made that a compromise be reached with opposing groups by first making the expansion of gambling the subject of a public referendum to access the opinions of the residents of Florida.
The Senate Gaming Committee plan is to have the draft finalised by next week.


A new decision by social gaming giant Zynga had the industry chattering Tuesday as news broke that the company is shuttering its branded version of the popular slot-bingo online game developed by Slingo after around eighteen months of operation under a Slingo licence.
With immediate effect Zynga Slingo has stopped signing on new players, and the company plans to withdraw its version of the game from Facebook towards the end of August, probably re-deploying its legions of fans (estimated conservatively at well over 3 million) to other entertainment sites like Zynga Poker.
Slingo was acquired by RealNetworks last months (see previous InfoPowa report), which may have something to do with the decision to pull the Zynga game.


A case in the Los Angeles court attracted the attention of online poker industry observers this week, outlining as it did an attempt to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from several high profile poker players, including Joe Sebok.

The Associated Press news agency reports that two California men were sentenced to federal prison for hacking into the email accounts of the professional poker players and using naked pictures and private information to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said Monday.

Tyler Schrier, 23, was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and Keith James Hudson, 39, was sentenced to two years, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy T. Wu.

Hudson admitted hacking into a player's account to steal naked pictures and plotted with Schrier on how to extort players, prosecutors said.

Schrier pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other crimes in the fall 2010 scheme to hack the email account of poker pro Joe Sebok.

Armed with the illegally obtained intimate emails and photos, Schrier threatened to make them public unless Sebok and other victims paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, prosecutors said. Schrier later sent a nude photo of Sebok to about 100 people.

Sebok addressed the court during sentencing Monday, saying the plot's victims had "their lives altered and shattered in irreparable ways." He said the photos caused him to lose work representing brands in the poker industry, and damaged his reputation moving forward.

"In short, I was no longer able to maintain my then-current level of participation in the poker industry, representing the brands that I had been previously, as well as greatly destroying my ability to do so with new companies moving forward," Sebok said.
"Without belaboring the point too much, it was a nightmare, and one that I was forced to live through with millions of people watching."

Schrier pleaded guilty to conspiracy, extortion, and unauthorised access to a protected computer, whilst Hudson pleaded guilty to unauthorised access to a protected computer for financial gain. Schrier also admitted that he had previously extorted more than $26,000 in a separate plot.

A third defendant in the case, 22-year-old Ryder Finney, pleaded guilty to conspiracy; his prison term will be handed down later this month.

The names of the other victims were not revealed - they were identified only by initials in court documents.

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