During a media call today to promote his online poker bill, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) disclosed that he hasn’t spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) or Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) at all this legislative session about coordinating efforts in Congress to legalize online poker.
Barton, talking about the Internet Poker Freedom Act he introduced in the House of Representatives last week, said he last spoke to Senators Reid and Heller about online poker during the 2011-2012 Congress. He acknowledged that if his bill makes it to the mark-up stage of the legislative process, “then we have to look to the Senate and Senator Reid. If they’re serious, we’re serious too.”
Implicit in Barton’s remark was the idea that poker legalization will never progress at the federal level unless and until Reid finds a way around significant legislative roadblocks in the Senate. Reid failed in 2010 and again in 2012 to push a federal online poker bill through that chamber of Congress.
Barton spent most of the call discussing the state and tribal rights, consumer protection and job creation aspects of his bill.
“This bill is the culmination of three or four years of hard work,” he noted. “Not just by me but by a lot of the stakeholders and other congressmen too.”
Barton was pressed several times on how a federal framework for internet poker could promote state and tribal rights.
“I think enough states are starting to allow it that you need a national system,” he said. “Nobody has said to my face that the concept in my bill wouldn’t work. I think my bill is extremely state-rights friendly. My bill is easy to enforce and easy to activate.”
Barton added that tribal sovereignty issues have been addressed by creating opt-in and opt-out provisions for tribes that are separate and apart from the opt-out provisions for the states in which those tribes are located.
“We’re trying to be real cognizant of the sovereignty issue and I think we’ve developed a trusting relationship between what we’re doing in the last Congress and what we’re doing in this Congress. With so many tribes we’ll never get 100% agreement but we’ve come a long way.”
Barton believes that as more states enact intrastate online poker legislation it will be easier to find support for a federal measure in the House of Representatives. That type of thinking flies in the face of what most industry analysts predict – that as more states act on their own, Congress will see less of a need to pass federal legislation.
No matter how that aspect of the legalization fight plays out, Reid’s problems in the Senate will remain. Barton, however, was upbeat.
“I don’t think this policy of ‘Just Say No’ is going to last much longer. As soon as neutral congressmen and senators who may not have an affinity or aversion for poker one way or the other see that this is happening intrastate, I think they’ll get on board.”
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