Federal efforts to legalize online poker across the US have gone nowhere in past years

Online Poker, Sports Betting Could Sneak Into Congressional Bill On Horse Racing

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A hearing on US legal sports betting this month was postponed in Congress, but the issue remains on legislators’ agendas.

A Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing Friday on a bill addressing doping in horse racing also led to discussion of legal sports betting and online poker.

According to a Roll Call article, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) sees an opening to use the related issue of horse racing to include language on online poker expansion and potentially sports betting.

“I am looking at it,” Barton said to Roll Call.

Barton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for additional information or comment on the Roll Call piece.

Barton long focused on online poker

This would mark the latest in a long line of attempts by Barton to legalize online poker at the federal level. Online Poker Report summarized the Congressman’s efforts through the current decade:

Barton’s 2011 legislation, the verbosely-worded Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011 (HR 2366), managed to collect eleven cosponsors.

In 2013, Barton’s bill was renamed as the Internet Poker Freedom Act (HR 2666), but the name change didn’t help when it came to support, as it was able to attract just a single cosponsor.

Barton’s 2015 proposal, similarly called the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015 (HR 2888), has two cosponsors.

Bill sponsor does not want attachments

Rep. Andy Barr (R-Kentucky) sponsored the bill that sparked discussion. Barr’s legislation would create a national Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority.

Funding would come from a tax on state racing commissions based upon the number of horses in that state.

Barr said he does not want Barton to tie what he sees as unrelated issues to his bill if they jeopardize passage.

Future unclear for the measure

With 125 co-sponsors — including 75 Democrats — Barr’s bill enjoys some momentum. But Friday’s hearing brought out a number of voices on both sides of the measure and solidified its controversial nature.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and would not commit to Barr’s bill seeing daylight.

“I can’t predict that at this point,” Walden said. “There was obviously differing viewpoints on the legislation, which we fully anticipated. Everybody knew that. I think it’s important to air these issues, and then we’ll decide where we go from there.”

Congress mostly quiet on sports betting

After the Supreme Court repealed PASPA in May, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said he would introduce new federal legislation to govern sports betting. Hatch has not yet dropped any such bill.

The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations announced last week a hearing entitled Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America for June 26. Almost immediately after the subcommittee posted the hearing, it postponed the session indefinitely for unrelated matters.

While online poker seems like a long-shot for final inclusion, there is at least a chance this bill becomes a vehicle for sports betting.

- Adam Candee is a veteran of covering sports business and news in Las Vegas. Adam arrived in Las Vegas in 1989, and is a former editor and reporter at the Las Vegas Sun and KLAS-TV.
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