This week, Poker Players Alliance (PPA) Executive Director John Pappas appeared on Bloomberg television to break down Congressman Barney Frank’s (D-MA) Internet Gambling Regulation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act.
The bill, numbered HR 2267, was introduced on Wednesday and calls for a complete licensing and regulatory framework for the internet gambling industry in the United States. Although similar to a bill that Frank introduced during the last Congressional session, HR 2267 focuses on how proper regulation can mitigate the perceived social ills of gambling. Pappas told Bloomberg’s television outlet, “We want to make sure that the Federal Government puts the standards in place so that there is safety for minors, that there are services for problem gamblers, and that adult consumers can enjoy the game without fear of fraud or abuse. A prohibition never stopped a child from getting online. A prohibition never stopped a problem gambler. Regulation is the only way to do it.”
Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and others have argued that a computer with the ability to gamble online may provide the outlet for children in the United States to begin playing at a young age. Bachus even quoted a non-existent McGill University study during a House Financial Services Committee meeting last July, claiming that one-third of college students who gambled online attempted suicide. Pappas explained that online poker sites currently employ safeguards to combat underage gambling: “Most of the online sites today already are using very high-tech, sophisticated age verification technologies. They have no interest in having children on their websites playing against adults. They want adult consumers playing on their sites. The only way to ensure that all sites have that is to pass a bill like Barney Frank’s.”
Pappas’ appearance on Bloomberg also included a discussion of whether playing online poker is illegal in the United States. Poker players can vividly recall the CBS News program “60 Minutes” stating that the game was against the law on multiple occasions after show producers allegedly contacted the Justice Department. However, Pappas revealed what the legal status of the game in the United States is: “For the U.S. player, it’s not illegal for them to go online and play internet poker. What the law in 2006 attempted to do was to make illegal the transactions. It puts the burden on the financial institutions, not the actual player.” The law in question is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was ushered through Congress in the waning moments of the 2006 Congressional session by then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). The UIGEA’s text gave no indication of what was legal or illegal under it. Instead, it deferred to existing State and Federal laws.
Some would cite the Wire Act of 1961 as grounds that playing online poker is not allowed in the United States. However, the 48 year-old measure traditionally applies to online sports wagering. Pappas told Bloomberg, “The Wire Act states that illegal gambling is being in the business of betting or wagering. An internet poker site isn’t in the business of betting or wagering. They’re simply allowing a venue in which people can compete in games of skill like poker against each other.”
In recent months, the PPA has seen judges in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and South Carolina conclude that poker is a game of skill and therefore should be treated separately from online casinos, Bingo parlors, and sports betting outfits. During the last Congressional session, Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) introduced HR 2610, the Skill Game Protection Act, which would have exempted poker, bridge, chess, mahjong, and other player versus player games from the UIGEA and Wire Act.
At the time of writing, HR 2267 has 16 co-sponsors, including Wexler, Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Peter King (R-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Melvin Watt (D-NC).