US Representative Joe Barton Considers Introducing an Online Poker Bill to Congress
U.S. Representative Joe Barton is considering the introduction of another online poker bill. Like his other attempts to pass gaming legislation, the Texas lawmaker wants to legalize and regulate online poker at the federal level.
The bill is seen as a counter to Restore America’s Wire Act, the proposed legislation pushed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Linsdey Graham in the Congress. Chaffetz and Graham want to ban online poker site and Internet casinos, though most experts believe RAWA has little chance of passing.
Barton’s Online Poker History
The same can be said of Joe Barton’s bill. Barton has tried several times to pass online poker legislation, starting from 2011 onward. The last time he tried to pass such legislation was in June 2013, when he introduced the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013. The bill never reached the floor of the House for a vote, though it received enough support that IPFA received its own committee hearing.
Barton, a Republican from Ennis, Texas whose district includes parts of Arlington, talked to the Fort Worth Star Telegram recently about his bill. Talking in broad terms about the popularity of poker in offline gaming, Barton said, “It’s very ironic that Texas hold ’em poker is played everywhere legally except in Texas. But one of these days that will change.”
Texas Hold’em Background
The variant of poker known as Texas hold’em was played by professional card sharps on the road and in the gaming rooms of Texas in the 1950s, by men such as Doyle Brunsen and Amarillo Slim. By the 1960s, those gamblers had moved to Las Vegas, where they took the game. Benny Binion, another Texas who owned the Horseshoe Casino in Downtown Las Vegas, introduced the version of poker to the public first. When Binion started the World Series of Poker, holdem was the game played. Since that time, it has become the most popular variant of poker in the world.
With tribal gaming and private casinos, land-based casino gambling is legal in 39 states. Online gambling is allowed in only 3 states at present (Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware), but California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Massacusetts, Mississippi, Indiana, and Washington all have considered or are considering passing laws to legalize online gaming. With so many states making brick-and-mortar gaming legal, it makes little sense to ban a form of gambling which is taking place anyway, but which could be taxed for additional state revenues.
With most US states facing budget crunches, legislatures have to consider the possibility in many states. Morgan Stanley suggests the American online gambling industry could be worth $2.7 billion a year by the year 2020.
Chaffetz Sees Gambling as Dangerous
Not everybody thinks online gambling is a good deal. Those who support RAWA believe online gambling is a particularly dangerous form of gambling, because it “places a casino in every home“.
Saying that proponents of RAWA are making an “important moral argument“, Jason Chaffetz recently told the Utah legislature that “Putting an app on every phone that allows people to gamble wherever they are is not a good idea.”
Barton Sees Gambling as a Personal Choice
Joe Barton does not see it that way. He believes decisions on whether to gamble or not should be a matter of personal responsibility. To the Texas representative, governments telling citizens what they can do in the privacy of their own home is abhorrent–if those people are not harming anyone else. Barton told the Star Telegram, “Folks who think they can stand in a pulpit and tell people how to run their lives and tell states how to run their businesses don’t see the same Constitution I do.”
Barton’s bill is similar to the one he supported in 2013. Online sports betting, lottery betting, and casino games (like blackjack) are not going to be involved in his bill. Only poker is addressed.
Debit Payments Only
Also, the bill allows only for debit payments–not credit cards. That’s an important distinction to Joe Barton, because people could not run up 5-figure gambling debts when playing cards online. Presumably, they could only wager the money they had free to spend. Under those circumstances, he believes problem gamblers would not be able to do permanent damage to their families’ finances. No homes would be lost due to bad decisions at the poker table–unlike in land-based gambling. Barton’s law also would make it illegal to gamble under the age of 21. Presumably, that would make it harder for college-age kids to wager their student loans or tuition money on gambling.
The legislation also has an opt-out clause, which would make it easier for states to join in online poker. Under an opt-out provision, states automatically would have legal online poker, unless the state chose to say “No” to online gambling. With an opt-in provision, such gambling only would take place if the legislature approved such measures.
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