All eyes are on Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a 16-term member of Congress who authored the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013, a bill that was unsuccessful in gaining passage.
Following the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) hearing last week on Capitol Hill, a bill that seeks to ban all forms of online gambling, the poker community is looking to Barton in hopes he’ll reintroduce legislation to end iPoker prohibition in the United States.
Throughout his career, Barton has advocated for the legalization of poker both online and at brick-and-mortar casinos.
The 65-year-old is a regular poker player who says he travels to Oklahoma at least once every three months to play cash games since his home state still hasn’t legalized commercial gambling.
“It’s very ironic that Texas hold’em poker is being played everywhere legally except in Texas,” Barton said. “But one of these days that will change.”
Poker for All
The RAWA hearing didn’t go quite as planned for proponents of the bill as the witnesses called to testify presented a lackluster case for banning Internet gaming, promoting a rather biased opinion by citing decades-old studies and judgments. According to John Pappas, chief exec for the Poker Players Alliance, the erroneous conference was nothing more than “checking the box to advance Mr. Adelson’s bill.”
Sheldon Adelson is the owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and spends millions of dollars on Republican Party campaigns, although just a drop in the bucket of his roughly $30 billion empire. He believes the US would be much better off with all online gaming banned and has previously said he’ll spend “whatever it takes” to get RAWA passed.
But even with his political clout and billions of dollars, RAWA doesn’t appear to have a happy ending for anti-online gaming supporters. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) failed to get the bill passed in the Senate, and it doesn’t look likely that RAWA will gain support following rather weak testimony last Wednesday.
Rep. Barton’s 2013 bill would have done almost the exact opposite of RAWA, albeit only for poker. HR 2666 was basically the same version he brought to the House in 2011, and while the 2013 legislation gained more traction than its predecessor, it ultimately met the same unsuccessful fate.
HR 2666 aimed to create a legal, regulatory online poker framework that all 50 states could opt into, with federal protections in place to prevent minors from accessing the network. Of course, not everyone agrees blocking underage players is as simple as Barton’s bill claims, with the Stop Predatory Gambling Texas group calling the act “a recipe for certain disaster.”
After bringing poker bills to the table in 2011 and 2013, should Barton’s two-year cycle continue we should expect yet another piece of legislation brought to the House in 2015. Now more than ever, the poker community could use an elected politician defending its cause.
Barton has said he’s “adamantly opposed” to RAWA, as is his fellow Texas US Rep. Ted Poe (R) who says the continued ban on online poker will only fuel the black market. Many believe Barton will bring a new version of the Internet Poker Freedom Act to the floor this summer, perhaps in cahoots with the annual World Series of Poker, the biggest tournament in the game.
“It’s being done in some states. It’s being done overseas. This is not a cross-your-fingers-hope-it-works kind of deal,” Barton said. “Once it was up and running, people would say, ‘What was all the hullabaloo about?'”