New Jersey gambling regulator ignores online poker problems

With the recent introduction of the Restoration of America's Wire Act in the U.S. House and Senate, the internet gambling issue has again returned to the forefront of policy discussion on Capitol Hill. The renewed focus has prompted well-funded legalization advocates to promote the demonstrably false idea that the many problems associated with internet gambling will disappear with a government stamp of approval.

Now that internet gambling is legal in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey, we needn’t rely on speculation to see the moral hazards associated with legal internet gambling.

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Convincing evidence is found in the response by New Jersey gambling regulators to concerns raised by Bill Byers, a Florida-based professional poker player with nearly 40 years of experience with the game.

Byers is a volunteer who helped demonstrate my hacker technology on Capitol Hill and to various university computer science departments -- the same technology capable of breaching every so-called protection claimed as effective by New Jersey (and Nevada).

My research is the origin of two letters to Congress from the FBI concerning internet gambling. In a November 2009 response to an inquiry from Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the FBI’s Cyber Division confirmed that bad actors can breach identity and age verification and geo-location protections. The FBI confirmed in a September 2013 response to a letter from Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) that determined hackers can hide themselves from detection by poker websites and their regulators.

In a January 2014 letter to the director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, David Rebuck, Byers explained the very real weaknesses in New Jersey’s regulations, closing with an offer to conduct a real-money stress test of New Jersey’s age and identity verification, geo-location, and anti-money laundering protections.

Rebuck did not respond to Byers’s concerns or his offer of a stress test.

In March, Byers and another professional poker player and Poker Hall of Fame inductee, Dewey Tomko, co-wrote an op-ed which appeared in the Press of Atlantic City. They specifically addressed the vulnerability of novice players to cheating by teams of colluders as well as the curious lack of interest on the part of New Jersey regulators in the details of how cheaters might exploit system weaknesses.

Only after the March op-ed did New Jersey’s top regulator acknowledge the previous correspondence, but refused the offer to prove the collusion, cheating and ID and age verification problems with online poker. The stress-test offered by Byers proposed the use of hacker technology  the FBI clearly believes is effective. Byers offered to show how a poker player located outside New Jersey can play poker on a New Jersey website. He offered to show how money laundering could occur undetected. In his March 25th response, Rebuck said that his staff would be happy to receive any information about matters of concern to his office, yet  despite several requests spanning many months prior to online poker becoming legal in New Jersey through the months since, would not agree to a meeting, briefing, or hacker demonstration, let alone a real world stress test.  Even the FBI warnings and those of pro players as well as other experts are not enough for the officer responsible for investigating such vulnerabilities to even a  conversation about the very real, very serious vulnerabilities in online poker.

Meanwhile, New Jersey officials insist the game is safe for the thousands of unsuspecting new players being lured into playing online poker by a very aggressive advertising campaign, as, notably, New Jersey coffers swell with tax revenue.

New Jersey regulators have failed to take seriously the legitimate concerns raised by credible experts after fewer than 6 months of legal internet gambling.

To ease the burden on gambling regulators and cure the apparent indifference of state governments, Congress should pass and the president should sign the Restoration of America's Wire Act legislation without delay.

Thackston is a Florida-based software engineer. He has written other pieces opposing online gambling, at least one in collaboration with a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, the advocacy group founded and funded by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and his work is featured on the coalition’s website. This above piece was, however, written independently.