US Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) has introduced the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015, a House bill similar to his 2013 version that seeks “to establish a program for the licensing of Internet poker by States and federally recognized Indian tribes.”
The online poker debate is without a doubt heating up, as lawmakers on both the state and federal levels are going all-in by expressing their opinions and presenting new legislation to push their platforms
Barton wasn’t the only politician in Washington this week to introduce an iPoker proposition. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), both 2016 presidential candidates, reintroduced the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) to the Senate, a bill that is in complete contrast to Barton’s and seeks to ban all forms of Internet betting.
From Pennsylvania to California, elected leaders are feverishly working to either promote or demote online poker, as states across the country wrestle with budget deficits and revenue shortfalls. Through it all, there’s the balance between their political and perhaps moral stances on gambling, weighed against iGaming’s potential fiscal benefits.
In March, Barton told his colleagues that he planned to introduce a bill to legalize and regulate online poker at the federal level in the coming months. While several bills in states that are considering iPoker or iGaming legislation are nothing more than shell bills, a tactic that comes with no substantive provisions and only serves as a placeholder for a more thorough future bill, Barton’s is just the opposite.
The three-month delay was apparently much required, as Barton’s bill comes in at 102 pages in length, a comprehensive decree that covers everything from iPoker history and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), to how his bill would be implemented, licensed, regulated, policed, penalized, and reported.
“The Department of Justice has found that it is legal for States to license Internet poker,” Barton’s bill reads. “United States consumers would benefit from a program of Internet poker regulation which recognizes the interstate nature of the Internet, but nevertheless preserves the prerogatives of States and federally recognized Indian tribes.”
Opponents of online poker say a legalized industry would give criminals access to money laundering tools, give children access to gambling, and send problem gamblers into an even more dangerous tailspin. But Barton and co-sponsors Rep. Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) believe a regulatory framework will only make online poker safer.
It’s been a busy week for the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The leading advocacy group for iPoker was in California testifying on behalf of legalization, and then responded to RAWA being reintroduced to the Senate, and now learns of Barton bringing a pro bill to the federal landscape.
“Congressman Barton’s bill is common sense public policy that would allow qualifying states to pool players together to create a more robust market that will drive consumer satisfaction as well as increase state revenues,” John Pappas, PPA executive director said.
Barton’s Internet Poker Freedom Act doesn’t include a “bad actor” clause, which would preclude operators that catered to American players following passage of the UIGEA, most notably PokerStars. His bill also wouldn’t mandate states to legalize iPoker, but only creates a foundation for interstate poker play should a jurisdiction move to legalize.
“Poker is an all-American game. It’s a game that I learned as a teen and continue to play today,” Barton said in a statement.