The Lucky 113th Congress has turned its bleary eyes onto the subject of internet gambling by Americans. The Senate held a hearing this week and Reps. King and Barton have each introduced bills for regulating internet gaming.
Follow me out into the tall grass for more about what the House and Senate are up to.
Joe Barton's bill, gag reflex alert here, is called the Internet Poker Freedom Act. Congressman Barton thinks of poker as a game of skill and a Texas tradition and if Texans want to play the game online, he is all for it. He said,
Poker is an all-American game. It's a game that I learned as a teen and continue to play today. Just like millions of other players I enjoy the strategy and skill involved. . . I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online. They deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure.Rep. Barton's bill applies to poker only and works mainly by preventing federal interference with States regulating internet poker. The approach is States Rights/Libertarian.
For those Republicans with a more Authoritarian than Libertarian approach to federal regulation, Peter King's bill offers comprehensive federal regulation of all internet gaming except sports books.
It would create an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Treasury Department, a new agency that would be assigned “licensing and enforcement responsibility” for state Internet gambling operations. Under the bill, states or Native American tribes could choose to ban Internet gambling, and they could also choose to cooperate with each other to allow interstate gambling, thereby leading to what the gambling community calls “liquidity,” a reference to creating larger pools of bettors.Peter King's Wall Street backers, for whom Mr. King is a complete tool, see reliable profits from legalized online gambling. But the idea of a new federal regulatory agency seems pretty radical for a member of John Boehner's caucus.
“Rather than cede the regulation of Internet gambling to state lawmakers, Congress should ensure there is consistent oversight of this industry and move to generate significant new revenues without having to raise taxes or cut programs,” King said in a prepared statement.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe these bills instead represent two of the very different tides in the GOP House that are pulling Mr. Boehner's speakership back and forth. Rep. Barton has pushed online poker legislation before, and the eventual fate of such legislation in the House is unknown.
Against that background, here is how Dave Behr at Poker News Online described what happened this week on the other side of Capitol Hill:
That brought us to Wednesday, when a Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled, “The Expansion of Internet Gambling: Assessing Consumer Protection Concerns”. Three of the four expert witnesses for the hearing were a retired South Carolina local police officer, a lobbyist for the Catholic Church, and a Washington lawyer who specializes in money laundering and financial crime and who told the subcommitte, “I think gambling is dumb.”Taken all together, it appears that there might be room for Congress to actually do something, perhaps a combination of the different policy vortices so far, i.e. national security, consumer protection, revenue, prevention of money laundering, States rights and Tribal rights.
You can imagine how things went. The witnesses and various senators tied the scourge of online gambling to human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism and organized crime, all while making sure to decry the perils of underage gambling. Won’t somebody think of the children?
The junior Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller, is the ranking minority member of that subcommittee. He repeatedly slammed the Justice Department for its December 2011 reinterpretation of the Wire Act that permitted states to begin offering intrastate online gaming and called for the previous interpretation of the Wire Act to be reinstated.
Heller did allow that poker, as a game of skill, is different from other forms of gambling and perhaps should be permitted. After the hearing was over, he told Washington reporters, “Senator Reid and I are on the same page on this issue,” according to GamblingCompliance.com. And the Las Vegas Sun reported Reid as saying, “This was a very, very good hearing. I helped [Heller] prepare for this.”
So far, there doesn't seem to be much chance of the 113th Congress passing any kind of governance initiative. Wouldn't it be ironic if the only thing like that that did get through was a new federal internet poker regulation.
I would personally like to see federal law reforming the regulation of internet poker. I play No Limit Texas Holdem online at an offshore book operating free of all U.S. regulation. I suppose that doesn't mean the NSA isn't watching. Anyway, I'm not sure I'd play with a U.S. book if that became available, but, as a consumer, I would like to have the choice. There is also a certain ambiguity remaining when playing games not specifically sanctioned by local or federal law. Action by Congress could clear this up.
I loathe and detest Joe Barton, D-TX, with nearly every fiber of my being, except the poker fibers. There, I agree with him that poker is a game of skill. That is why I call my losses "tuition".