Time was when the framing of U.S. policy on Internet gambling was the cause célèbre of the Democratic Party. Massachusetts’ inimitable Barney Frank springs to mind and, more recently, Nevada’s favorite son, Harry Reid. However, these days on Capitol Hill it’s a different story. Right-wing Republicans are behind the two bills now under consideration in the 113th Congress.

The latest, introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this month, comes out of the Tea Party stronghold of northeastern Texas. The “Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013” it’s called, and its sponsor is 63-year-old Joe Barton, an anti-tax crusader and lifelong champion of energy deregulation and the rights of Big Oil and chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Mr. Barton has been known to log on himself to play the “all-American game,” as he likes to call it (never for real money, he adds), and this is his second go in two years at trying to make Web poker the law of the land.
“I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online,” he said. “They deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure.”
Whether he’s more successful in getting them one this time around is another matter. 

The prevailing wisdom, subscribed to by Reid himself, holds that there is little appetite in Washington for federal regulation, a politically toxic issue at best and one generally seen as best avoided. This is especially the case now that several states have taken the initiative to regulate the industry within their respective jurisdictions.
A bill introduced in the House in June by Long Island Rep. Peter King, whose hawkish views have earned him the chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, has collected one co-sponsor to date, Massachusetts Democrat Michael Capuano. Barton’s bill was routed on 11 July to Energy and Commerce (where Mr. King’s bill has principally resided since 7 June) and the Financial Services Committee with no co-sponsors.
Reid, who once called online poker “the most important issue facing Nevada since Yucca Mountain,” has been able to deliver nothing so far for his corporate casino constituency in in Las Vegas. But the leader of the Democrats’ slim majority in the Senate has been working to mend fences with GOP leaders he angered over the election year politicking that helped doom his 2012 bill before it ever got to the upper house. 
Reports are he’s readying a new bill for introduction, possibly before Congress goes on holiday on 2 August, in consort with fellow Nevadan Dean Heller, the Republican whose first full term in the Senate he tried to prevent last fall.
Reid is proceeding more carefully this time. In a bid to get his own party lined up behind the need for federal regulation—and no doubt to take an initial reading of the political winds on both sides of the aisle—the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, of which Heller is the ranking Republican, scheduled a hearing on 17 July titled “Internet Gambling: Assessing Consumer Protection Concerns”.
Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller implied in a statement prior to the hearing that he may already be on board. 
He called for “a hard look” from a consumer protection standpoint “at what a growing Internet gambling industry means as more states have recent laws permitting online gambling” and “how we’re going to fix any existing gaps that allow underage gambling or otherwise leave consumers vulnerable to fraud and abuse.”
Barton’s bill over at the House of Representatives (H.R. 2666), like King’s (H.R. 2282), would establish nationwide oversight through a super-agency within the Commerce Department (King’s would be installed in the Treasury Department). Regulation and enforcement ultimately would lie with the secretary of Commerce and the National Indian Gaming Commission as the bodies charged with reviewing and approving the actual licensing authorities at the state and tribal levels. 
Like the King bill, it also is packed with consumer protections which among other things would require licensees to build problem gambling mitigation into their offerings by including tools to allow players to self-exclude or set predetermined limits on wagers, credit (although credit cards would not be allowed) and direct marketing. It also would prohibit the use of poker “bots” or any “electronic, electrical, or mechanical device or software or other program or tool which is designed, constructed, or programmed specifically for use in obtaining an advantage in any game authorized under this title”. 
That’s about where the similarities end and where H.R. 2666 is likely to run afoul of a number of constituencies whose views Washington won’t want to ignore. Unlike H.R. 2282, which would permit casino-style games and would open the market to state lotteries and the racing industry, Barton’s poker-only approach (his bill also would permit other “skill” games) restricts licenses to commercial and Indian casinos and card rooms in operation for at least five years. Moreover, its provisions would supersede any regulation the states already have in place, in contrast to H.R. 2282, which would grandfather in existing intrastate networks. H.R. 2666 also locks out for five years any entities convicted of having operated illegally in the United States post-UIGEA.
As a poker-only measure it’s more in accord with what the casino industry and their Washington lobbying arm, the American Gaming Association, might find palatable. 
The AGA hasn’t taken a formal position on either bill, however. King’s endorsement of casino-style games is a concern for them. The land-based sector has never been of one mind on the competitive threat posed by the Web and those that have embraced poker did so only after the recession hit and traditional revenues tumbled. As for H.R. 2666, a statement attributed to Geoff Freeman, the AGA’s new president, said only that the group is “pleased that Rep. Barton continues to understand and support the pressing need for a federal legislative solution that would allow for legal, regulated online poker in this country, while still providing the necessary framework for consistent consumer protection safeguards and effective tools to combat illegal Internet gambling.”
The states, led by the National Governors Association, actively opposed Reid’s abortive 2012 legislation, and it’s expected they will work to defeat both King’s and Barton’s and anything like them that attempts to supersede their historical primacy over gambling within their borders. The lottery freeze-out in H.R. 2666 will strike them as particularly noxious.
No hearings were scheduled on either, as of this writing. 
The prospects for H.R. 2282 are in the hands of über-conservatives Lee Terry of Nebraska, who heads the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who chairs Financial Services. The bill also was sent to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who also co-chairs the Congressional Internet Caucus and is best-known in the industry as one of the leaders of the federal effort to outlaw Web gambling prior to the passage of UIGEA.
As a longstanding member and a former chairman, Mr. Barton wields some tenure on Energy and Commerce, but that’s no assurance H.R. 2666 will see the light of day, and he has acknowledged as much.
“Patience,” he said, “is a virtue at the poker table, and it is a virtue in trying to get this bill into law, and it will happen.”