Earlier this month, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced S 1597, the Internet Poker and Games of Skill Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. The bill includes provisions to address problem gambling.

Menendez’s measure calls for the licensing and regulation of internet games of skill like online poker in an effort that is narrower than Congressman Barney Frank’s (D-MA) HR 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. At the end of Menendez’s legislation, $14.2 million per year over a five-year period is prescribed for problem gambling awareness, treatment, and research. National Council on Problem Gambling Executive Director Keith Whyte told Poker News Daily, “We think, overall, it’s responsible that if you’re going to have a bill that expands gambling, you put in money to address gambling problems.”

The text in Menendez’s bill comes from HR 2906, the Comprehensive Problem Gambling Act of 2009. The measure was introduced by a bipartisan contingent of Congressmen Jim Moran (D-VA), Lee Terry (R-NE), and Frank Wolf (R-VA) in mid-June amid support from the Council. Whyte explained, “We’re pleased that there’s a responsibility to mitigate problem gambling and we’re glad it’s the language from HR 2906. However, this would still only be the first ever federal funding for prevention and treatment programs. There is a lot more language in our House bill than what Menendez added. It’s not the entire bill.”

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the 1.2 million member strong lobbying group, was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of S 1597, which debuted shortly after the conclusion of National Poker Week. PPA Chairman and former three-term Senator from New York Alfonse D’Amato called Menendez’s bill “another powerful step towards protecting internet freedom, protecting consumers, and protecting online poker.” S. 1597 allocates $200,000 per year for awareness, $4 million per year for research, and $10 million per year for treatment.

Whyte revealed that the National Council on Problem Gambling plans to introduce a companion bill to HR 2906 in the Senate. In the meantime, Congress is currently on recess until after Labor Day in the United States. He noted, “We met with Menendez’s staff and asked him to introduce a companion bill to HR 2096 in the Senate. We did not specifically request that our language be included in his bill, but this is a good step.” The National Council on Problem Gambling does not support Menendez’s bill, however, because it calls for an expansion of gaming.

Much to the delight of online poker players, Menendez’s bill specifically identifies the game as a legal activity. It defines “internet skill games” to mean “an internet-based game in which success is predominantly determined by the skill of the players, including poker, chess, bridge, mahjong, and backgammon.” Frank’s HR 2267 boasts 54 co-sponsors after being introduced in early May along with HR 2266, which calls for the regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to be delayed by one year. As it currently stands, the financial services industry must come into full compliance with the 2006 law by December 1st. HR 2906 has attracted 10 co-sponsors, including Frank and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV).

The National Council on Problem Gambling is based in Washington, DC. Text on the organization’s website reveals that it was founded on two mantras, “that the organization would be the advocate for problem gamblers and their families and that it would take no position for or against legalized gambling.” Its annual Awareness Week occurred from March 1st to 7th this year and included the organization reaching out to problem gamblers through popular social mediums like YouTube.

Stay tuned to Poker News Daily for the latest on Menendez’s bill to regulate online poker in the United States.

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