Poker players lobby for online gaming

27 October 2007

Supporters tell members of Congress that the card game is one of skill and shouldn’t be restricted by U.S. Internet laws as are games of chance.

WASHINGTON — When trying to convince lawmakers that her career is more than just a card game, professional poker player Annie Duke refuses to fold.

Duke said, “What I do is not gambling.”

The world-champion player joined other poker hotshots lobbying Wednesday on Capitol Hill, hoping to persuade members of Congress that poker, like chess and mah-jongg, is a game of skill — and not, like roulette, a casino game that leaves players’ fortunes to chance.

Representatives of the Poker Players Alliance, an association of professional gamers and industry leaders with more than 800,000 members nationwide, contend that current federal online-gambling regulations violate international trade rules and unfairly restrict the civil liberties of poker enthusiasts.

Rep. Robert Wexler, who opposes the current restrictions, said, “It’s a national  pastime, and the idea that we would prohibit adults from playing poker on the venue of the 21st century is illogical.”

Wexler has introduced a bill that would reverse restrictions on online poker bets by grouping poker with other skill games, such as backgammon and bridge. It would also allow state and federal governments to tax gaming transactions and implement safeguards to prevent play by minors and by individuals in states that ban Internet gambling. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is sponsoring a similar measure that would provide broader regulation over all Internet wagering in place of an outright ban.

Last year, members of the Poker Players Alliance were trumped by enactment of legislation banning banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gaming establishments based outside the United States.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.), a primary sponsor of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, said the Internet’s unregulated environment magnified problems associated with gambling, such as addiction, money laundering and organized crime.

“It’s like having a casino not in every neighborhood, but in every living room,” Goodlatte said.

Poker proponents have suggested that, for too long, social conservatives have demonized poker as a vice of compulsive gambling addicts who recklessly hedge their bets beyond advisable limits.
That’s not so, said Duke, who in 2004 won $2 million after knocking out eight poker legends in the invitation-only World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. She called poker an “incredible intellectual exercise” that, with each hand played, demanded considerable knowledge of mathematics, psychology and money management.

Duke said, “Poker is a game that is deeply complex, but t he complexities don’t reveal themselves until you know a lot about the game.”
Duke also said,” It was hypocritical to permit online bets on lotteries and horse racing and not provide the same allowances for a more skill-based game such as poker.”

Duke stated, “Poker is like options trading, where brokers make rapid decisions under conditions of extreme uncertainty, the critical thinking going into each poker hand was smiliar to the decisions people made every day, from shopping habits to personal relationships.

Goodlatte, however, argues that it would be a mistake to categorize poker with other skill games.

“There’s just no comparison,” he said. “Card games . . . are games of chance with some skill involved in bluffing. But each hand you are dealt is total luck.”

Federal law distinguishes games that require a certain level of intellectual engagement to succeed from those in which players rely largely on luck to reap rewards; it regulates the latter more rigorously. By being classified as a game of skill rather than a game of chance, poker would face fewer legal restrictions.

The World Trade Organization has ruled that U.S. online-gambling restrictions violate international trade agreements.

The United States responded by withdrawing from a WTO provision regulating gaming issues.

Naotaka Matsukata, a former policy planning director for the U.S. trade representative’s office, said that unprecedented action by the United States could undermine both U.S. negotiating credibility and the WTO as an institution.

“It really takes the spirit of what the WTO is about and turns it on its head,” Matsukata said. Several countries, including the European Union, are seeking up to $100 billion in compensation from the United States for its online-gambling restrictions.

Frank’s and Wexler’s bills are awaiting consideration in committee. Steven Adamske, a spokesman for Frank, said that Frank’s bill would move forward when it garnered sufficient support. Josh Rogin, a spokesman for Wexler, said he hoped hearings would be held early next year.
Vice president of government affairs for the PPA said, “ He would like to see a victory at the end of the current congressional session.”  “We think we have a pretty strong hand, and we are going to continue to play it until the end.”

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