Will Online Poker be Legalized in US Soon?

Posted on July 13th, 2012 by Todd Wilkins

Online Poker in the USConcerning legalizing online poker in the U.S., the big question continues to be will it happen? Logic says Congress will pass an online poker bill. But Congress often defies logic. Some U.S. legislators and advocates were optimistic when questioned by reporters recently but others connected to gambling were not so sure a bill would be passed soon.

Representative Joe Barton from Texas has been on the bandwagon to legalize online poker for quite a few years. He’s the author of the Barton Bill, which has been in the House for more than a year and is still under review. This bill would charge the Department of Commerce with overseeing online poker and licensing states.

Recently, when discussing possible legislation for online gambling, Barton offered,

My bill is needed now more than ever. It creates one federal standard that protects the integrity of the game and the financial interests of players — while protecting American consumers from nefarious and predatory overseas gambling operations.

There is concern amongst many, including various parts of the federal government such as the Justice Department, that leaving licensing of online poker in the U.S. to the states would create a legal nightmare. Barton commented,

If Congress doesn’t act soon we could end up with fractured rules and regulations that vary state to state, leaving more opportunity for fraud and fewer safeguards for players.

However, time is running out for Barton and his bill as it sits in the House idling. The last time hearings were held on it was October and November 2011. At that time, various groups, such as the Poker Players Alliance, were creating quite a buzz about it, hoping to get some fast action. But the hearings came and went and very little was heard of the Barton Bill.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) executive director John Pappas is in synchronization with Barton concerning the need for the federal government to finally act. The PPA, a grassroots organization in the U.S., has been very active in meeting with legislators and in canvassing members to contact their representatives regarding the need for Internet poker legislation.

Pappas said,

The more the states continue to move forward with this, the harder it will be for the federal government to step in.

Various states are in the midst of legislating online poker and gambling. Delaware has recently passed a bill regarding casino gambling and New Jersey continues to work towards legalization. The District of Columbia has also been attempting to create a law that would legalize online poker, while Nevada has taken a different course of action. The state has everything in place and ready to go once a federal law is established regarding online poker.

If the Barton Bill does not pass, there is one more potential law focusing on online poker that is also sitting in the House. That one would have the Secretary of the Treasury oversee the licensing of online poker in the U.S. This is a more sweeping bill, which was created by Representative John Campbell a Republican from California. The Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, a group that describes itself as the “leading advocate for Internet gambling regulation,” is in support of the legislation and there are many in the U.S. Congress who like Campbell’s bill.

Although Campbell’s communications director, Chris Bognanno, admitted that there was a lot of bipartisan support for the bill, he felt that action on it was not likely during an election year.

Bognanno said, because of the lame duck session in the House, It’s just tough right now to get this kind of thing through.

However, there’s still plenty of opposition to these bills and to Internet poker and gambling in general.

The executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), Keith Whyte, said,

Americans are fundamentally schizophrenic on gambling. We love to gamble but we don’t approve of it.

Whyte does not believe action will be taken this year for various reasons. Noting that the election year offers too many distractions for lawmakers and the risk involved in supporting online poker in an election year, The NCPG executive director said that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that an online poker bill will be passed this year.

Neither bill is supported by The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), which is a powerful group representing 184 different tribes. The group is devoted to protecting tribal sovereignty and has developed six principles focusing on sovereignty. Two primary issues include concern for any action or legislation that might make the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act open to amendment and the possible taxation of tribal revenues related to gambling.

Commenting on the legislation, NIGA Deputy Executive Director Danielle Her Many Horses said, What’s most important is maintaining tribal sovereignty.

Regarding his bill and online poker the optimistic Barton noted, I am confident this issue will be voted on by the House and Senate in this session. Although he has stated his confidence, Barton seems to be in the minority regarding the House and Senate’s ability to act on the issue of online gambling this year. It’s important to note that lawmakers have introduced various bills have been over the past decade and none have seen the light of day. Barton’s bill and Campbell’s may also remain in the dark and those in the U.S. who want to play online poker will continue to do so in the light of their computer screens generated by virtual poker rooms located offshore.

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