National Poker Week officially began on Sunday, July 19, but the real launch took place in the early morning hours of July 20, as Poker Players Alliance Chairman and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato made an appearance on the famous Howard Stern show. And as the day went on, many PPA state directors and some of the most well-known poker pros descended upon Washington, D.C. to prepare for Congressional lobbying and a push to legalize online poker in the United States.
Stepping out of his everyday comfort zone, D’Amato began the day with an early morning guest appearance on Howard Stern’s satellite radio show, willing to answer questions on a range of subjects from his life as a new father at 72 to his avid support of poker. It was then that Stern announced that he became a member of the PPA, which prompted high kudos from D’Amato and the following statement:
“I can’t think of a more fitting way to kick off National Poker Week than having my friend, Howard Stern, become a member of the PPA. I think him for having me on his show this morning and for supporting the PPA’s efforts to protect the freedom of American citizens to play the great game of poker at the time and place of their choosing – a freedom Congress voted to take away… With Howard Stern as a member of the PPA, it shows Congress and the public that protecting Internet poker is about more than just poker – it’s about protecting Internet freedom and personal responsibility.”
As many of the PPA members completed their journeys to D.C. for lobbying efforts later in the week, D’Amato was hard at work on Capitol Hill conducting meetings with potential supporters of Barney Frank’s H.R. 2267. He later spoke at a dinner meeting with news that one conversation in particular constituted a “major breakthrough,” as one of online poker’s “staunchest adversaries” may soon announce his support of the Frank bill. Though mysterious about his or her identity, D’Amato seemed confident that the positive outcome of the meeting will only bring the bill closer to passage. With more than 50 cosponsors of the bill now, D’Amato said confidently, “We can win this. I really feel that we are close to turning the corner and making real progress.”
PPA Executive Director John Pappas was also busy throughout the day, hosting a panel discussion in front of 60 or 70 members of Congress and/or staffers to discuss the benefits of regulating online gaming. With Annie Duke in attendance and several panel members in addition to Pappas, the issue of consumer protection inherent in online gaming legislation was the focus of the discussions that were reported to have been productive.
Everyone then gathered in the early evening hours to meet and enjoy dinner, and the PPA took center stage with Pappas leading the talks and D’Amato addressing the attendees. The special guest of the evening was Rep. Robert Wexler of Florida, a long-time supporter of online poker legislation, who briefly talked to the room about the “legitimacy and common sense” of the issue. “I don’t know of another issue or another industry or another interest where people are saying that we are a viable interest that wants to participate in the funding of our federal government. We have people saying, ‘Please raise revenue from me!’” Wexler went on to point out the importance of the planned face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staff in the fight to legalize online poker.
The focus of the PPA’s Monday night gathering was simple – to motivate the room full of people who had trekked all the way to D.C. to raise awareness for the issue and meet with members of Congress in the hopes of adding cosponsors to the bills and win their support for the issue. Many PPA state directors were in attendance, as well as other PPA members who were able and decided to stand up for their rights on Capitol Hill. Considering this would be the first time for most, everyone was set up to accompany a career lobbyist to several meetings over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, and they were given instructions and encouragement.
It was a rousing start to National Poker Week, as poker planned its descent upon Capitol Hill through numerous meetings. Poker supporters came in the many forms, from retirees and self-employed people who enjoy the game of poker to pros like Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, Andy Bloch, Greg Raymer, Jan Fisher, and Linda Johnson. All were prepared to push poker legislation as they had never done before, and the week’s activities were officially off the ground.
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