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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”