A Federal Online Poker Bill Is Unnecessary
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Instead Of Another Federal Online Poker Bill, Existing Gambling Laws Should Be Fixed

federal online poker bill
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With Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) hinting that he will be introducing another internet poker bill, it brings a new twist to the current debate – one that may put online poker advocates between a rock and a hard place. 

With those advocates shouting ‘states’ rights’ from all quarters, it does seem that the time for a federal bill to regulate internet poker has passed.

Would a bill from Congress that dictates how a state may regulate internet gambling be any different, from a states’ rights perspective, than one which would prohibit the same?

Calling for federal action negates states’ rights arguments

Even with ‘opt in’ or ‘opt out’ options, unless it allows states to opt out and still regulate as they see fit, it takes away the states’ right to decide the issue for themselves. To now argue in favor of federal regulation would appear hypocritical, and for good reason. 

Though we haven’t yet seen what the Congressmen is going to introduce, he has suggested it will be much the same as his previous submission. That bill proposed creation of a new office in the Department of Commerce to essentially regulate the regulators. Not only is such a bill completely unnecessary, it imposes on states’ rights just as much as RAWA does, and should be opposed on the same basis.

We see from those that have already passed internet gaming legislation, as well as in the bills introduced in others, that states are being diligent in their approach to regulation, which makes federal regulations unnecessary and redundant. More government, more hurdles, and more taxes are all there is to be gained from this approach.

That said, I do believe there is a federal role in this issue, and perhaps as advocates we can help steer Rep. Barton’s bill in the right direction. Rather than duplicate regulatory language the states are using already, a federal bill should instead focus on the issues clearly in its purview. Some tweaks to established federal gambling acts should be sufficient federal involvement. 

The Wire Act

While Rep. Chaffetz is trying to amend the Wire Act to apply to online poker, Congress should instead make it clear that the Act does not apply to internet poker when operated intrastate, where the player and the host are within the same state regardless of particular routing of that information, nor to multi-state associations sharing player liquidity, where states have authorized and regulated the activity.

As a bone to Rep. Chaffetz, stronger language applying the Act to ‘illegal online gambling sites’ could be added as well.

IGRA

Enacted before the advent of internet poker, how the Indian Gambling Regulatory Act will now be applied to it is already heading to the courts.

A healthy debate and Congressional action to cover internet gaming under this act is preferable to leaving it to the courts to interpret and apply dated language to current conditions.

UIGEA

The hastily-passed UIGEA is already dated, and should get revised to take into account ‘lawful’ internet gambling. This would ease the fears of financial institutions and players alike, and facilitate smooth transactions.

It is also a place Rep. Barton could insert ‘debit/prepaid cards only’ language, ensuring players are not gambling on credit. This strikes a fatal blow to the false ‘click a mouse lose your house’ narrative, while having no real impact on the average player.

IGBA

I infer from the Illegal Gambling Business Act that any internet poker operator serving customers in a US jurisdiction in which it is not licensed to do so, is in violation of the Act. If it isn’t that simple, it should be. This would make clear that unauthorized internet gambling sites violate federal law.

These updates would make a clear distinction between regulated and unregulated gaming, allowing for the former while prohibiting the latter, without an additional level of regulations and taxes, and without infringing upon states’ rights, making it easy to support.

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Curtis Woodard
- Curtis is a recreational poker player from Seattle, WA who advocates for state ipoker legislation. He is the founder of the Washington Internet Poker Initiative and sponsor of Initiatives 582 and 583. Catch him on Twitter at @curtinsea and @ipokerwa (WIPI).