A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation on Friday aimed at fully legalizing online poker, betting that a more narrowly tailored measure will have better prospects of success than previous, broader efforts.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and others said they believe that a bill focused only on poker will gain more traction than legislation introduced by Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., and Barney Frank, D-Mass., earlier this year that would have legalized all Internet gambling.
Supporters of legalizing online gambling say that millions of Americans already do it but use offshore sites that offer them few protections.
The bill “would allow Americans to do something they are already doing,” Campbell said at a news conference. Both he and Frank have signed on in support of Barton’s bill.
Barton noted that although playing poker online is not illegal, it is unlawful to process bets related to such games. His bill would authorize online betting on poker and direct the Commerce Department to set up a licensing and consumer-protection regime. The bill would authorize online poker only in states that allow it. Barton said the current legal situation is “unworkable.”
The Texan's measure is expected to be referred to the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is a senior member. It would likely go through the Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Subcommittee. A spokesman for subcommittee Chairwoman Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., said she hasn’t taken a position on Barton’s bill but is considering holding a hearing on it.
Asked how a recent federal crackdown on online-poker sites might affect the bill’s prospects, Frank said he believed that it will help galvanize support. “There was a great deal of unhappiness that the U.S. Attorney for New York had nothing better to do but harass people playing poker,” he said.
Supporters of Barton’s bill also said that fully legalizing online poker could generate tax revenues.
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., introduced a companion bill to Frank’s measure in the last Congress that would have authorized a process for taxing online gambling. He told National Journal on Friday that he is waiting to see if Barton’s bill advances before deciding whether to reintroduce his measure. McDermott noted that if Barton’s bill were to pass, he expects that a measure authorizing a tax on such transactions would move quickly through Congress.