July 11,2012 : IS U.S. FEDERAL LEGALISATION OF INTERNET GAMBLING POSSIBLE THIS YEAR?
It seems like a long shot….
Possibly prompted by remarks made by Texas Congressman Joe Barton at the World Series of Poker last week, the Sun Bulletin and other US media took up the question of federal legalization of online poker Tuesday, making enquiries with influential political figures in Washington DC.
The conclusion appears to be that of the two legalization bills currently languishing in Washington, Barton's has the best chance of succeeding because it focuses on internet poker rather than online gambling generally, but to pass this year it will almost certainly be confined to the lame duck session of Congress.
Barton's bill proposes the establishment of a regulatory and licensing regime overseen by the Department of Commerce, but still leaves individual states with the choice of opting out if they wish.
The more general attempt to federally legalise online gambling by Californian Congressman John Campbell proposes that the Secretary of the Treasury should be responsible for the licensing of Internet gambling activities, but again gives states the option of choice on whether to allow online gambling within their borders.
Campbell's communications director, Chris Bognanno, said while there was much bi-partisan support both within and outside Congress, it would be unlikely to see a result in an election year. He said a lame-duck session result was possible, but 2013 was a more likely timeframe for passage.
"It's just tough right now to get this kind of thing through," he admitted.
Both bills are currently languishing at committee stage in the House of Assembly, with hefty work schedules, the summer recess and presidential elections all immediately ahead and calling for more urgent attention.
Speaking to the Sun Bulletin, Barton said this week: "My bill is needed now more than ever. It creates one federal standard that protects the integrity of the game and the financial interests of players — while protecting American consumers from nefarious and predatory overseas gambling operations."
He explained: "If Congress doesn't act soon we could end up with fractured rules and regulations that vary state to state, leaving more opportunity for fraud and fewer safeguards for players."
However, the Congressman's staff added the caveat that "time is not working in our favour", pointing out that no further hearings have been set yet.
A spokesman for Rep. Mary Bono Mack, the Californian Congresswoman who convened the hearings on Internet gaming as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade last year, told the Bulletin there is "no consensus for moving forward with online poker" and noted that there were tribal issues around the proposals which need to be addressed.
Undeterred, Barton responded by saying that there is positive bi-partisan support in the US Congress to legalise internet poker.
"I am confident this issue will be voted on by the House and Senate in this session," he said.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, is another who believes it is "extraordinarily unlikely" that a bill will pass this year, pointing out that this is the tenth year in which legalization drives have been launched.
He noted that there was "Congressional dysfunction" as well as distractions during an election year and the "significant risk" for both political parties in supporting legalization in the current political environment.
When approached for comment, the National Indian Gaming Association, which represents 184 different tribes, said it does not support either bill.
NIGA and its member tribes have agreed upon six principles to protect tribal sovereignty, on which their support is contingent, said Danielle Her Many Horses, the organisation's Deputy Executive Director. "What's most important is maintaining tribal sovereignty," she said.
In a departure from its usual position of speaking out for federal rather than state-by-state legalization, the American Gaming Association declined to comment on the bills or the issues.