With the future of online poker hanging in the balance, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, refuses to fold.
Entrenched in a legislative showdown with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barton recently introduced legislation to facilitate a national marketplace for online poker. H.R. 2888, also known as the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015, has the potential to create an annual multibillion dollar national industry, but the smug visage of crony capitalism seems to be standing in the way.
The bill is very similar to Barton’s last attempt to pass similar legislation in 2013, with some slight modifications. As Barton recently put it in an interview with the site CardsChat:
It’s the same as last year’s bill. We just clarified a few issues, rechecked with the stakeholders and made sure that the Indian tribes that are supportive are OK with the regulatory regime. We set up an Indian commission that is similar to the federal commission for the states.
H.R. 2888 would still legalize and regulate online poker at the federal level, while allowing willing states to opt-in so that operators would be licensed on a state-by-state basis. The bill also maintains penalties for unlicensed operators, programs to assist problem gamblers and mechanisms to keep out the underage.
For his part, Sen. Graham reintroduced his own piece of legislation, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, or RAWA. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, reintroduced the House version in February. In March, R Street Executive Director Andrew Moylan testified about some of the ways RAWA would trample on states’ rights.
The bill would outlaw any betting using wire communication facilities that passed through, even just momentarily, any state where it is illegal, even if the activity is legal both in the place where the bet is being placed and the place where the bet is being logged. The law codifies what opponents of online gambling believe to be the correct interpretation of the 1961 Federal Wire Act. Excluding horse racing and fantasy sports, RAWA would effectively ban all forms of online gambling (including in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada, where in-state online gambling is currently legal) and would even threaten to shutdown online sales by state lotteries in place like Georgia.
Graham’s motives have drawn major criticisms from the Poker Player Alliance, including claims of political opportunism and crony capitalism. Graham has aligned with a powerful anti-online gambling group led by billionaire casino tycoon and noted Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Unless you live under a rock, it’s not news to anyone that Graham is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Adelson has come out as an early and influential backer of Graham’s campaign.
In the face of such opposition, Rep. Barton has continued to push forward, advocating for H.R. 2888 as a better means to protect players from fraud and other security issues than existing frameworks and mechanisms. For the sake of poker players and free market advocates everywhere, hopefully Rep. Barton can take a page from Sen. Rand Paul’s book and “defeat the Washington machine.”