AGA Poker Bill


In late June, Congressman Joe Barton (R – Texas) introduced a new bill in the United States House of Representatives aimed at legalizing and regulating online poker.  The bill, the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011, was well received by the poker community and co-sponsored by, amongst others, Rep. Barney Frank (D – Mass.) and Rep. John Campbell (R – Calif.), who had previously introduced their own bill.  Last week, eGaming Review reported that not all parties associated with gaming are thrilled with the bill, though.  The American Gaming Association (AGA), an organization which represents the commercial gaming industry, will not extend its support to Barton’s bill.

Instead, the AGA is penning its own poker-only bill, hoping to introduce it in the fall, once Congress returns from summer recess.  One of the main goals of the bill is to give oversight of the domestic online gaming industry to the federal government while delegating, as AGA head Frank Fahrenkopf put it, “the licensing and regulatory authority to those states that have the longest history in gaming regulation, that have the law enforcement on staff and the financial wherewithal to do tough regulation. Probably, that only means Nevada and New Jersey.”

Fahrenkopf is annoyed with individual states’ attempts to start up online gambling industries within their own borders, skeptical of their ability to have enough of a player base to sustain games.

One difference between the Barton and AGA bills is one which poker players will not like.  While the Barton bill is an “opt-out” bill, meaning that if it becomes law, online poker will be legal in all states unless those states specifically choose to stay out of the game, the AGA bill will be an “opt-in” bill.  In that case, online poker will not get the green light in a state until that state makes the decision to allow its residents to play.

“States would not automatically be included as states where you can gamble online with online poker. State legislators and governors would have to take affirmative action to say, we want our people to game,” said Fahrenkopf.

As doing nothing is typically easier than taking action, poker players generally feel it is better if state legislators have to do something to block poker in their states, rather than just being able to sit around and have it remain illegal.

The other tent pole of the AGA bill is the exclusion of poker rooms who continued to serve U.S. customers after the UIGEA was passed in the fall of 2006.  Those companies would be barred for at least two years.  According to Fahrenkopf, this was the biggest reason why Senator Harry Reid’s (D – Nev.) attempt at introducing legislation in October failed.

“Sheldon Adelson [Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO] was personally offended by the fact there would not be a ‘penalty box’ by some,” Fahrenkopf said to eGaming Review.  “He called leaders in both houses, as did Steve Wynn at the time. That was before Steve had his epiphany with regard to internet gaming. A very substantial epiphany that he had.”

Despite the AGA’s lack of support for the Barton bill, Fahrenkopf said that his organization is not actively opposing it.


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