The Fight: A Rundown of the House Hearing on Internet Gambling

Pro-poker Rep. Joe Barton was one of the Congressmen in attendance for Tuesday's hearing

Tuesday, online poker got to spend some time in the spotlight in Washington DC as the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing weighing the pros and cons of legalizing and regulating online gambling in the United States  and the pro-poker bill HR 2366, known more commonly as the Barton Bill.

What Happened in the Hearing:

For a little over an hour, the Committee, which included the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), heard testimony and asked questions of a six-person panel of experts which include former Senator and Poker Players Alliance Chairman Alfonse D’Amato, Parry Atfab of of Fair Play USA, Chapman University Law Professor and consumer protection expert Kurt Eggert, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling Keith Whyte, Ernest Stevens of the National Indian Gaming Association, and Dan Romer of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The panelists comprised a wide array of viewpoints and, as a result, the hearing covered a range of topics including possible mechanisms to verify the age of players, the problems of bots, HUD tools and datamining potentially creating an unfair advantage in the online poker world, the successes and problems experienced by European countries with similar regulatory systems already in place, and whether or not Indian nations deserved first entree into the marketplace, should regulation come to pass.

The questions from members of the committee also covered a broad spectrum, with some of the members being expressing skepticism about the idea of regulation. Rep GK Butterfield (D-North Carolina) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi) expressed concerns about being unable to adequately protect children and problem gamblers from online gambling.

Whyte spoke to the issue of children and problem gamblers by pointing out that regulation alone is not the answer.  “Regulation alone cannot adequately prevent people from having an addiction, as we know from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.  You must have health services and we must have within those health services culturally specific services available to youth and adults to treat and research.”

Harper also questioned the motives of some of these lobbying groups and point blank asked the panel if their organizations took money from so-called illegal offshore gambling sites.  Both Whyte and D’Amato responded yes, but clarified their respective answers.  Whyte pointed out that his organization also takes money from the brick and mortar casinos in the Representative’s home state of Mississippi, while D’Amato pointed out that the legal status of offshore gambling is still in a somewhat gray area, as some interpret the Wire Act of 1967 to apply only to sports betting.

Full Tilt Poker and Ultimate Bet both came up over the course of the hearing and the consensus on the panel seemed to be that instances like those are exactly the type of things regulated gambling would be able to prevent from happening again.

The hearing also covered more details on Native American tribes’ role in the gaming world, how online gambling will impact state-run lotteries, whether or not players should be identified and marked based on their skill level, the complications that may arise with online age verification, and whether or not regulating online gambling will result in a substantial increase  to the number of gamblers in the United States.

If there is one takeaway from this preliminary hearing, it seems to be that there is a long way to go and a lot of questions to answer before regulation can even hope to become a reality.  Though Committee Chair Rep. Mary Bono  Mack (R-CA) concluded the meeting by stating the group would continue to closely examine the issue, there are currently no plans  for any additional hearings on the schedule.

More on the Testimony and What to Expect Next:

For those who would like to learn more about what transpired at Tuesday’s hearing, CSPAN has complete video coveragevof the proceedings.  The Committee’s official website on the hearing also includes testimony from the various panelists.

The American Gambling Association (AGA) did not have a representative on the panel, but also submitted testimony regarding the hearing and supports the regulation of online gambling within the US.  The organization also took to Twitter via @AGAupdate to offer some rebuttals and evidence in support of a number of the statements made during the hearing.

While the hearing didn’t offer much insight on the likelihood of legislation like the Barton Bill, which was first introduced this past June, getting through Congress, more and more non-poker groups are speaking up on the issue.  Earlier this week, Bloomberg News  published an editorial by Timothy Lavin and George Anders in support of the cause.  Within the piece, they cite Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who suggests regulated online gambling could potentially save $41.8 billion in the federal government’s budget over the course of the next ten years, not to mention generate over $30 billion for the states.

The Hill offered its own rundown of Committee proceedings on Tuesday and concluded the hearing seemed to indicate a genuine interest in pursuing the subject further.  We’ll keep tabs on the reactions to the hearing’s and have the full rundown for you in the next edition of The Fight.

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