God wants us to have the right to play poker online.
So said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Tuesday called to review the state of online gaming in the U.S. The session often had the feel more of an old Western saloon—poker challenges and all—than a stately governmental affair.
Barton began the hearing with some cheerleading for his Internet Poker Freedom Act, which he introduced in July. He said that God must want his bill passed because Barton safely traveled from Texas to D.C. this morning, braving two icy storms in the process. Barton went on to detail how the Internet is an all-powerful and awesome tool that lets people do just about anything they want. Almost.
"Just about the only thing you can't do anymore on the Internet is play poker," Barton said. "I think the time has come that in the Internet age, we need to regulate and set a level playing field for those of us who would like to play poker online."
Following the testimonies of a decidedly split witness panel, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., seized an opportunity to call Barton's bluff on invoking divine intervention to promote his bill.
"Mr. Barton, who we all know and love, got off on a little bit of a tangent during his opening remarks when he said 'God is in favor of my online poker bill' … but he only need to look at the number of his bill—2666—to remember that the devil's in the details," Blackburn quipped, eliciting laughter.
"At least you were listening," Barton shot back.
Blackburn didn't miss a beat: "I'm always listening, Mr. Barton. Women do that very well."
Barton later retreated from his opening remarks, conceding that "I was somewhat flippant when I said God favored this bill. Obviously God doesn't care one fig about this." But, he continued, "God does care about free will, and I think we should have a law that reflects that."
The committee is discussing serious issues, such as the validity of age-verification mechanisms and the dangers of poker bots. Also of central concern is the Justice Department's interpretation of the Wire Act and how much freedom states should have in deciding whether they want to allow and regulate online gaming within their borders.
But Barton really seems to want to be able to play his favorite game from behind a computer monitor. He made sure to delineate that poker is different from other casino games, like slots or roulette, that only rely on luck.
"There are lots of professional poker players," Barton said. "It is a game of skill." He then confidently said that if he and some of the others in the room began playing Texas Hold 'Em, he would have "a high probability of telling you which one comes away the victor."