Barton Introduces Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013

congressUS Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) has introduced HR 2666, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013.  The bill’s introduction was announced today by the Poker Players Alliance, which also published a PDF of the 102-page bill on its website.

Barton’s latest online-poker bill has been in the works for some time.  Barton introduced a similar bill back in 2011 that failed to garner enough traction to reach the floor of the House for the vote, and this latest legislation may face a similar fate, particularly with the collapse of the Reid-Kyl bill late last year and the increasing push for state-level regulation of online gaming.

Nonetheless, the bill’s particulars are worth examining merely for the sake of having been introduced.

Barton’s latest bill references both the 2006 UIGEA and the more recent United States v. DiCristina (in which poker was judged to be a game of skill) in claiming the need for a special protection for poker.  Here’s an early passage from Barton’s bill describing the distinction:

(5) Poker is distinct from the class of games of chance traditionally defined as gambling in that players compete against each other, and not the person or entity hosting the game (sometimes called ‘the house’), and that over any significant interval the outcome of a poker game is predominantly determined by the skill of the participants.

Barton’s bill would establish an Office of Internet Poker Oversight, as part of the Department of Commerce, and includes a possible criminal penalty of up to five years for the principals of any unlicensed entity who might offer unlicensed internet-poker services to US citizens following passage and implementation of the bill.  An additional fine of up to $1,000,000 per day could be assessed against unlicensed operators.

The bill contains language catering to both state-level and tribal authorities, both of whom would have the responsibility of creating regulatory frameworks that would “meet the minimum standard for qualification” as defined elsewhere in the Barton bill.

Barton’s bill contains a state- and tribal-level opt out, meaning that specific states seeking to ban online-poker access for their citizens must notify the Secretary of Commerce in writing as to “the nature and extent of such prohibition.”  Otherwise, any approved state-level or tribal operators would be free to market their online-poker sites to any US citizen not living in a state or on a reservation where online-poker is specifically banned.

Also, a tribal band located in a state which chose to ban online poker would not be bound by it.  For instance, if Utah’s Shoshone Tribe chose to offer online poker to its on-reservation residents, they would be allowed to, despite the state of Utah already having banned all forms of online gambling.

Barton’s bill contains a five-year “bad actor” freeze-out provision for companies that previously serviced US players, but its wording includes “conviction” in a way that would make it non-applicable to any prominent, former US-facing sites such as PokerStars or PartyPoker.  The specific clause:

No applicant nor any other person may be eligible for a license or certificate of suitability under this section if such applicant or person has been convicted of accepting bets or wagers from any other person through an Internet poker facility in felony violation of Federal or State law.

That doesn’t apply to anyone at the present time.  Nonetheless, background and suitability tests would be required of all applicants, and the Barton bill contains all the expected caveats one would expect, including mandatory identity, age and location verification protocols.  Licenses would be issued for renewable five-year terms.

The bill includes a ban on software “bots” and other forms of cheating and collusion.  Operators would also be required to maintain compulsive-gambling lists, allow for self-exclusion, and provide for problem-gambling consideration, including possible stop and betting limits and a limitation on actual time spent on licensed sites.  The bill also includes a preemptive ban on credit-card deposits, to limit fraud and chargebacks.  Only bank deposits, e-checks and possibly debit cards would be allowed.

One of the most interesting inclusions is a call to gather gambling data, possibly to further the understanding of problem gambling behaviors.  Here’s the relevant clause:

(g) COMPILATION OF DATASETS ON PLAYER BEHAVIOR.—The Secretary shall compile and make available to the public, on the website of the Secretary, datasets on player behavior from customer tracking data collected or generated by loyalty programs, player tracking software, online gambling transactions, or any other information system. The Secretary shall ensure that personally identifying information, including player name, street address, and bank or credit information is removed from the data. The data shall retain information on player characteristics including gender, age and region of residence, player behavior including frequency of play, length of play, speed of play, denomination of play, amounts wagered and, if applicable, number of lines or hands played and characteristics of games played.

We’ll return with a later update after an even more thorough vetting of the bill.  The above includes many of the highlights.  Whether or not the bill has legs, Barton’s effort shows the latest in federal-level thinking regarding online poker regulation.  For that alone, it’s worth a look.


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