Joe Barton

Joe Barton Tries a Third Time with Latest Internet Poker Freedom Act

US Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas), has reintroduced his Internet Poker Freedom Act, a measure designed to create an opt-in regulatory framework for online poker for US states and federally-recognized tribes.  Barton’s reintroduction of the bill, believed to be highly similar (if not identical) to his 2013 bill of the same name, serves as a Congressional counterbalance to the online gambling-banning RAWA (Restoration of America’s Wire Act) measures also reintroduced in Congress this year by US Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

rep-joe-bartonBarton first introduced pro-online poker legislation in Congress in 2011.  Last Wednesday’s re-introduction of the bill, already given the nomenclature HR 2888, marks the third straight Congress in which the pro-poker pol has introduced such a bill.

Back in April, when Barton first announced his intention to reintroduce the Internet Poker Freedom Act, he cited the irony involved with the US’s current restrictions targeting online poker.  Said Barton, to his home-state Dallas Fort Worth Star-Telegram, “It’s very ironic that Texas hold ’em poker is played everywhere legally except in Texas. But one of these days that will change.”

The Poker Players Alliance, which worked closely with Barton in promoting the 2013 version of his iPoker Freedom Act (IPFA), issued a statement congratulating Barton on reintroducing the iPoker bill.  The PPA’s congratulatory presser took the obligatory slap at RAWA and its sponsors, Chaffetz and Graham, though it declined to lob any verbal bombs at the driving force behind RAWA, billionaire casino mogul and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Inc.

Per the PPA:

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the leading poker grassroots advocacy group with more than one million members nationwide, today commended Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) on the introduction of H.R. 2888, the “Internet Poker Freedom Act.” This bill would provide a framework by which states can seamlessly provide safe and regulated online poker. The bipartisan legislation has been co-sponsored by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

“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,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA. “A clear regulatory environment is in the best interest of all consumers, operators, regulators, and law enforcement.”

The legislation seeks to establish a common standard of consumer safety and player protections for states as they seek to license and regulate Internet poker at the state level, ensuring that best-in-breed technologies are in use to restrict underage access, geo-locate players, identify and mitigate problem gambling, detect potential money laundering schemes, cheating, fraud, and abuse.

The legislation does not circumscribe the rights of states in any way. States choosing to participate in the interstate poker system can do so, while states that do not want Internet poker can opt out. This bill stands in stark contrast to S. 1668 and H.R. 707, the so-called Restoration of America’s Wire Act introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham and Representative Jason Chaffetz respectively. These bills contort a 50-year-old law and seek to deny states the ability to protect their citizens through responsible regulation of Internet poker.

“To avoid a patchwork of state laws that could limit the pool of players and protect only those players within individual states, the Internet Poker Freedom Act would ensure a fair and safe playing environment for all states that choose to offer online poker to their residents,” said Pappas. “The poker community thanks Congressman Barton for his longstanding support, and we look forward to working together to advance this bill.”

The complete text of the bill has yet to be made available to the public, though it is expected to be published on legislative tracking sites before the end of this week.

Whether or not this latest version of Barton’s iPoker bill has any legislative legs remains to be seen.  Barton succeeded in getting hearings for his previous 2011 and 2013 bills but was unsuccessful in bringing them up for a vote: Both earlier bills stalled in committee and died a procedural death.  HR 2888’s best purpose appears to be a countering ploy against the anti-online forces aligned behind the twin RAWA bills.

However, as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of two House committees where the bill has already been assigned, Rep. Barton may have the power to at least bring HR 2888 up for a vote, if he so chooses.  The bill certainly needs to draw more broad-based support from fellow Congressman; as of its introduction, HR 2888 boasted only two co-sponsors, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN).

How enthusiastic Barton’s own support for the bill in the immediate future also remains to be seen.  Barton’s own press office did not publish an update through his official Congressional website.  Barton did issue a brief statement to selected outlets announcing his own love of poker and proclaiming the need for such a regulatory bill.  In that statement, Barton said:

“Poker is an all-American game. It’s a game that I learned as a teen and continue to play today. Just like millions of other players I enjoy the strategy and skill involved. I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online.

“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.

“Players deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure. The complex web of state and local regulations now being devised could leave players at risk. I believe H.R. 2888, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015, creates a federal standard and provides players proper protections. At the same time, it includes safeguards for children and problem gamblers.”

No hearings have been scheduled for HR 2888, which initially carries the descriptive title “To establish a program for the licensing of Internet poker by States and federally recognized Indian tribes, and for other purposes.”

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