Interview with PPA Executive Director John Pappas – part two

The following is the second of a two-part interview with Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas. The first appeared on on Monday, June 22. You can read that interview here.

The Poker Players Alliance has become an integral part of the poker industry, becoming ever more important as the U.S. government passed and began to attempt implementation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. As Congress has spent the past two years taking note of the hardships put upon financial institutions by the UIGEA, not to mention the infringement upon personal freedoms, several members of Congress have come to work with the PPA to overturn the UIGEA and introduce new legislation to legalize online gaming, with a special emphasis on poker as a game of skill.

With a major presence at the 2009 World Series of Poker, the PPA looks to bring more attention to its efforts on local, state, and federal levels. As discussed in Part 1 of this interview, PPA executive director John Pappas disclosed that there are currently over 1.2 million members of the organization and well over $100,000 in its PokerPAC, but there is more to be done, predominantly at the hands of PPA members. While there are attorneys and lobbyists working behind the scenes to preserve Americans’ rights, members of Congress need to know – and can be influenced by the voices of their constituents – that poker players and enthusiasts are a powerful voting bloc and demand their basic rights.

Pappas sat down with to discuss some of the recent actions of the PPA and where its efforts will be concentrated going forward.

What does your lobbying consist of in relation to the recently introduced Barney Frank bills and companion McDermott bill?

There are a number of things. There are two main things the PPA is focusing on right now. The first isn’t actually the Barney Frank bill, but it’s on the subject of clarifying the regulations that are supposed to go into effect on December 1. The banks need to comply with the UIGEA regulations with regard to the bill that was passed in 2006. We’re working with a bi-partisan coalition to have legislation introduced very soon, we hope, that would make sure the regulations don’t apply to internet poker. That’s where we’re spending a lot of our lobbying energies right now. Barney, as you know, just introduced his bill about three weeks ago, and we’re also spending time on the Hill talking to members of Congress about that, trying to get people to cosponsor the bill. We already have over 30 cosponsors, which is far beyond where we were two years ago when Barney introduced his previous bill. We’re very pleased with the progress there, but we’d like to see a bill move first that addresses the regulations and to say that poker isn’t affected by the UIGEA in the short term, and in the longer term, we’d like to advance Frank’s bill, which would license and regulate internet poker.

What part did the PPA play in the preparation and introduction of the recent Frank bill as a standalone one?

Chairman Frank has always said he wants this bill to go on its own merit, so that was his starting position. In the end, do I think that his bill, as introduced, will go through the House and the Senate and straight to the President’s desk? Probably not. There are going to be some changes to the bill, and there may be some other way that the bill gets through, maybe attached to a larger appropriations bill or some other major must-pass legislation.

Can you talk about the possibility of a Senate bill to be introduced?

We did have a bill introduced at the end of last Congress, S.3616, which was the poker-only bill. Imagine the Barney Frank fill, but apply it only to games of skill. Frank’s bill currently envisions casino style games on the internet, but this would be a poker-only bill. Senator Menendez introduced that bill last Congress as a place-holder for this year. We’re very close to securing a Republican co-sponsor for that bill, so it will be jointly introduced by them, and we hope to have that done before the WSOP main event.

On another note, what is the PPA doing on the state level in places like Minnesota and Kentucky?

In Minnesota, we’re currently in negotiations with the attorney general’s office as well as with the Department of Public Safety to halt enforcement of this ridiculous mandate they put on the ISP’s. Fortunately, we’re also working with the ISP’s to say that they don’t have to comply with this, and if they do comply, we could take legal action against you if you start blocking access to online poker sites for our members. None of the ISP’s intend to comply that we are aware of, at least the ones we’ve spoken with, and I think the attorney general, governor, and Department of Public Safety are all kind of back-peddling on this whole proposal because of the outcry that they saw not only from the poker players but from folks who are supporters of internet freedom and those who oppose censorship of the internet. (Note: Since this interview, the MN Department of Public Safety has dropped their attempt to block residents from accessing online gaming sites.)

Kentucky is in a good place. The PPA just filed its amicus in May. We do not have standing in the legal fight; the Interactive Gaming Council does, which is the trade association for a number of the poker sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars. They’ll be filing their briefs by June 5, and once those are filed with the state Supreme Court, it should hear the case toward the end of summer. I’m very confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s decision that the state had no right to seize those domain names.

When the Commonwealth originally brought the case, they did it in an ex parte fashion, which means that they went before the judge in a secret meeting, essentially, and they presented all the evidence with no one there from the opposing side to present evidence for the other side. The judge made the decision that, yes, they could seize those domain names based on that hearing. I’ve seen the transcript of it, and it’s ridiculous. They basically said that people who play online poker are either mentally retarded or drunk or complete gambling addicts. This was how the Commonwealth tried to portray poker players. But then they tried to extort the sites for billions of dollars to settle on this case, claiming that the Commonwealth is losing all sorts of money. But if the people playing online are as they said, would they then be allowed in a casino or racetrack in Kentucky? Where are they losing the money?

It’s a ridiculous case, and we’re very confident that the Supreme Court will uphold just on the basic facts that Kentucky doesn’t have jurisdiction to seize these domain names. And a domain name isn’t a gambling device. On those two counts alone, we win. And then you have the argument that poker’s a game of skill and not gambling under Kentucky statute, if we even get to that argument, we win that, too.

In which other states is the PPA is heavily involved?

Colorado, South Carolina, Pennsylvania. We won court cases in all those states in recent months. Even in South Carolina, the court found that poker was a game of skill but had to find the defendants guilty under the current statute. We were active in trying to pass a law there that passed out of committee and never got to the House vote, but we’ll be in a position to do that next year. We also have the court case there, where we’re appealing the case for the individuals who were found guilty despite the skill decision. In Colorado, where the gentleman was acquitted by a jury for holding poker tournaments in bars and taverns , the state appealed that, and we’re fighting the appeal. In fact, we just filed our briefs last week in that one. In Pennsylvania, our briefs are due in the first week of June. The judge there ruled that poker was a game of skill and therefore not unlawful gambling. The state again appealed it, so we’re fighting that. Quite honestly, should these cases be successful in appeal, that’s even better for poker because the value of the appeal is even greater than the initial victory. The higher the court, the broader the jurisdiction.

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