New Bipartisan Bill Would Legalize Online Poker


On Friday Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) introduced a bill that would explicitly legalize online poker at the federal level while allowing states to ban the game within their borders. The godawfully named Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011 (or IGPPCPSUIGEAA?), is narrower than a bill introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that applies to all online gambling except for sports betting, and it arbitrarily bars players from using credit cards to fund their accounts (in an effort to deter problem gambling). Michael Waxman, spokesman for the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative (an industry group), objects to that provision:

It simply doesn't make sense to limit the use of credit cards for those seeking to gamble online. Consumer protections for users of credit cards are much greater than those involving most other forms of payment. If someone is interested in using funds from their credit card to gamble online, they are not going to be stopped from doing so. They'll find less transparent mechanisms to move funds from cards to other payment mechanisms. The solution is to have broad consumer protections in place overall, and the law needs to require that in any case.

Still, the bill represents an improvement on current policy because it acknowledges that online poker is permitted by federal law as long as it does not violate state law. That is pretty clearly the case even under current law, but it's a reality the Justice Department refuses to recognize. Former Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Poker Players Alliance, says "Congressman Barton's bill aims to bring clarity to the law, while implementing tough consumer protections and providing a mechanism for the federal and state governments to collect billions of dollars in revenue."

The bill's co-sponsors include Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), John Campbell (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Peter King (R-N.Y.), Ron Paul (R-Texas), Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). Cohen, Conyers, Frank, and Paul also back the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, suggesting that a Pot and Poker Party could be more than a good time on a Saturday night.

Barton'd bill is here; Frank's bill, which Campbell re-introduced in March, is here. I criticized the Justice Department's recent online poker indictments in a column last April and discussed the broader Internet gambling crackdown in a 2008 Reason feature story.