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Rep. Barton continues push to legalize online poker

6 Jul 2015

By Howard Stutz
At the World Series of Poker, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is a celebrity.

In the last five sessions of Congress, Barton has either been the primary sponsor or signed on to a bill that would legalize Internet poker in the U.S. His most reason version of the measure was introduced on June 25.

A few days later, the Poker Players Alliance, a grass-roots trade organization seeking online poker legalization, brought Barton to Las Vegas to visit with poker players in the organization’s booth at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. Barton also handled the “Shuffle Up and Deal” kick-off at the WSOP that day.

“This is someone who has not given up the fight for you,” World Series of Poker Tournament Director Jack Effel told the players in the Brasilia Poker Room when he introduced Barton.

Afterward, actor James Woods — who starred in such films as “Casino,” Ghosts of Mississippi,” and “The Onion Field — and poker player Dennis Phillips — a 2008 Main Event finalist — wanted a few moments with Barton, who has represented Texas’ Sixth District since 1984.

Barton, 65, seemed a little embarrassed by the attention.

“I assure you that if I was going into Wal-Mart in Ennis, Texas, they would want to make sure my credit was good if I used my credit card,” Barton said. “I’m just a regular person and I’m blessed to be in Congress.”

Barton unabashedly believes online poker should be legal.


An avid poker player — he admitted being down a few hundred dollars after a weekend session at the Wynn Las Vegas poker room — Barton says he’s only trying to give Americans the same right players have in other countries.

He also knows the hurdles to get a bill passed in Congress have gotten higher since billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson vowed to “spend whatever it takes” to make all forms of online betting illegal.

A day before Barton unveiled his latest poker bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced an Adelson-backed bill to prohibit the activity.

“We had drafted the bill and showed it to stakeholders,” Barton said. “We had it ready to go and we intended to introduce it that week. We heard Senator Graham was going to introduce a contrarian bill, and while it looks like it was coordinated in a negative way, it just happened to be there at the same time.”

Graham, who is a candidate for president, got six sponsors for his bill, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is also seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Barton said he has never spoken about online gaming with Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., who is one of the largest financial backers of GOP candidates. He said Adelson’s emergence into the anti-online gaming side has probably made “a few more congressmen and senators aware of the political support.”


Still, Barton isn’t deterred. He doesn’t believe any amount of political influence will help the no on Internet gaming side.

“I support the political process,” he said. “I respect Mr. Adelson’s right to participate in political process. I probably need to to go see him when I’m out here again. I have nothing but praise of him being involved.”

Barton said Internet poker legalization “is not a top of the fold news issue,” so the average member of Congress doesn’t think about the matter. He believes most Republicans are “pro freedom” and would support the bill as long as they don’t “have a religious objection.” He has the same belief about the Democratic side of aisle.

The key component of his measure is an “opt out” clause for states if they don’t want to have online poker sites.

Barton believes passage of online poker is matter of timing. Currently, three states — Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware — have legalized forms of online gaming. The matter is being discussed by legislatures in New York, Pennsylvania and California.

If a larger state legalizes online poker and gets involved in interstate agreements — such as the current online network between Nevada and Delaware — Congress will have to act, he said. Also important will be showing that protections are in place so that minors can’t log onto gaming sites, problem gamblers are prohibited, credit issues are nonexistent and the game is fair.

“This thing is going to happen,” Barton said. “When you get enough critical mass at the state level, you almost force a bill like mine at the federal level. Then we’ll wonder what all the hubbub was about.”

Barton, who is supporting former Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP presidential nod, also believes President Barack Obama would sign a bill legalizing Internet poker. Barton said the president told him so a few years ago.

“It’s not binding but we had a phone conversation and he told me to get an Internet poker bill on his desk and he would sign it,” Barton said. “He hasn’t said that publicly, but I think he would sign it.”

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