Thursday, October 13, 2011 : Optimism for some, the converse for others
The notion that US online gambling – or at least internet poker – could be legalised by working through the Obama Administration's influential deficit reduction super-committee has been batted about remorselessly by the media in recent weeks, with optimism and pessimism in equal measure, and Sen. Jon Kyl frequently quoted as either opposed to the idea or "softening" towards it.
This week the Washington DC publication Politico took an objective look at the current situation, with an interesting peek into some the backroom action in Congress.
The report claims that Texas Republican Joe Barton, who has a legalising measure on the table, and veteran Massachusetts Democrat, Barney Frank are "…talking up members of the powerful deficit-slashing committee, arguing that virtual betting could boost tax revenue and even create jobs."
And, the article claims, the duo are not alone, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid still interested, and Sen. Kyl – notoriously against online gambling and a member of the supercommittee – apparently "softening."
Rep. Barton told Politico that he has been talking about his proposal with another member of the supercommittee, Republican Rep. Fred Upton from Michigan, and says that he, Frank and others are trying to persuade the supercommittee that the $42 billion in tax revenues that legalised online gambling would generate make it a logical option to aid in deficit reduction planning.
But, Barton cautions, the backing of Kyl and Reid will be necessary. “A lot depends on Reid and Kyl. There’s a lot of discussion involved on it,” he told Politico.
On past record, the prospects do not appear strong; Kyl was instrumental in killing off Reid’s online poker proposal last year although Internet poker advocates say he may now be more amenable, but will probably argue for severe regulatory demands.
The two Senators have previously worked together as recently as July this year, when they jointly appealed to Attorney General Eric Holder to be more aggressive in stamping out ‘illegal online gambling', but Politico says the incident also demonstrates that the duo are still talking about legalization.
Kyl declined to comment on whether online gaming would be included in a final supercommittee package as recently as last month, and spokesmen for both politicians have not returned Politico calls this week asking for comment, something that can be interpreted in a number of ways.
Politico says that the 1.2 million members Poker Players Alliance has been active in lobbying the supercommittee and mobilising its considerable membership, urging them to express their opinions to political representatives.
Alliance director John Pappas said that his organisation has made strong contact, sending nearly 7,000 emails through the PPA system to members of the supercommittee.
Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have been sent the most, getting 1,632 and 1,607 emails, respectively.
The PPA has also met with nearly all of the panel’s members or their staff, selling legalization of internet poker as a means to create US jobs, generate revenue and ensure strong consumer protections.
The Alliance has an ongoing information and interaction program through its membership, and is currently involved in promoting a petition under a White House communication initiative called "We The People".
The PPA has spent $800 000 lobbying Congress in the first half of 2011.
“We’d be happy to see this go in any form in any bill before the end of the year," Pappas told Politico. "Certainly, the debt committee seems like a natural fit. It should be appealing to Republicans on the committee.”
American Gaming Association chief Frank Fahrenkopf told the publication that his organisation was focused on its own legislative proposal and is not pushing for deficit reduction supercommittee involvement at present.
“We’re hoping that another piece of legalization will be introduced to legalize online poker,” Fahrenkopf said. He declined to identify which members of Congress AGA is working with on the legalization.
The newly formed Fair Play USA action group does not appear to be pressing for the supercommittee to get involved, either, instead hoping that Congress will address the issue. Started by MGM and Caesars, the organisation is focused on law enforcement officials at this point, according to its executive director, Marisa McNee.