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New online poker bill introduced in Washington

12 Jul 2013

By Howard Stutz
A Texas congressman and longtime Internet poker advocate introduced legislation Thursday that would allow states and Indian tribes to legalize the activity without fear of federal intervention.

The bill, titled the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013, marks the second time Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, has tried to push federal Internet poker legislation through Congress. His 2012 attempt stalled.

Barton’s bill is the second piece of online gaming legislation introduced in Congress during the current term. Last month, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., introduced an Internet gaming regulation bill that would allow all forms of online casino gambling, not just poker.

In interviews after King’s bill surfaced, Barton said his belief was that a poker-only bill had a better chance of passing Congress, rather than full-blown casino wagering.

Barton’s bill would set up a federal system for regulating only online poker. Individual states could opt out of the system, if they wish.

In a statement, Barton expressed confidence that Congress would “accomplish my goal of protecting the integrity of the game and the rights of those who play it.”

He said the bill creates “a federal standard” and provides players with various protections. The bill includes safeguards for children and problem gamblers.

“Poker is an all-American game,” Barton said. “I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online. They deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure.”

Caitlin Teare, spokeswoman for Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said the congresswoman has long supported federal regulation of online poker.

“She plans to closely review Congressman Barton’s legislation to ensure that it includes strong consumer protection safeguards and sound regulatory oversight,” Teare said.

Nevada legalized online poker in 2011 and added additional regulations this year. One company, Ultimate Gaming, launched its site in April. Other sites are pending state regulatory approval.

New Jersey legalized all forms of online gaming this year and hopes to launch websites by November. Delaware has also legalized online gaming, while other states are exploring the issue.

“The complex web of state and local regulations now being devised could leave players at risk,” Barton said.

The U.S. Department of Justice cracked down on illegal online poker in April 2011, cutting off access by Americans to three of the largest off-shore Internet poker companies and indicting their operators.

In December 2011, the Justice Department reversed its opinion of the Federal Wire Act, saying it only applies to sports wagering.

The move allows states to enact online gaming regulations.

John Pappas, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based poker advocacy group, Poker Players Alliance, called Barton’s legislation a “common-sense bill.”

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