Lawmakers Fight Over Whether God Would Allow Online Poker

Rep. Joe Barton really wants to play Texas Hold ‘Em on the Internet. And he thinks God wants it, too.

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Dec. 10, 2013, 9:35 a.m.

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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.”

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