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Tony Batt

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Poker groups split on bill

6 Aug 2008

By Tony Batt

WASHINGTON -- A new bill that would limit the Internet gambling ban to sports betting while exempting poker and other online wagering is splitting poker advocates.

The Poker Players Alliance, a group that lobbies Congress against the ban, is opposed to the bill. Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., who is the alliance chairman, said it does nothing to clear up confusion about the definition of unlawful Internet gambling.

But Jay Lakin, vice president of Poker Source Online, supports the measure, which was introduced shortly before Congress adjourned last week for its August recess.

Since Nevada is the only state that allows sports betting, Lakin said, the impact of the ban under the new bill would be minimal.

The Poker Players Alliance has argued the ban does not apply to Internet poker because poker is a legal activity, Lakin said.

So if the alliance supports the new bill and accepts the exemption, he said, it would be like admitting that poker is illegal.

"They're between a rock and a hard place," Lakin said.

Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, introduced the bill in an effort to clarify the scope of the ban, which has befuddled federal regulators.

Sessions' bill would narrow prosecution under the Internet gambling ban to persons who:

* Offer Internet sports betting in the United States.

* Process payments for illegal Internet sports betting in the United States.

So far, Sessions has four co-sponsors, all Democrats: Reps. Marion Berry of Arkansas, William Delahunt of Massachusetts, Gene Green of Texas and Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who is pushing her own measure calling for a study of Internet gambling, said she opposes Sessions' bill.

"People in Congress are still trying to eliminate sports betting on the Internet when it is very clear that millions wish to exercise their rights as Americans and bet online," Berkley said.

The House Judiciary Committee was prepared to vote last week on Berkley's bill, which would require a one-year study of Internet gambling by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Berkley said the committee agreed to her request to postpone the vote until she is confident there are enough votes to pass it.

Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association which lobbies for Nevada casinos, said his group is neutral on Sessions' bill.

But Fahrenkopf added that AGA would oppose any effort to add Sessions' bill to Berkley's legislation.

"We don't want to do anything to hurt the chances of the Internet gambling study bill," Fahrenkopf said.

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