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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bill allowing states to OK online poker introduced

WASHINGTON – Poker players could ante up online in states that choose to allow it, under legislation introduced Friday by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.

The bill, which Barton noted has bipartisan support, would require poker websites to obtain licenses from at least one state and the U.S. Department of Commerce to operate legally. The sites would be required to verify a user’s location to ensure that his or her state authorizes online poker.

Barton and the bill’s co-sponsors said at a news conference that their goal is to expand individual freedom and lessen the regulatory burden on banks. It is currently illegal in the U.S. for banks to process online gambling winnings or losses, even though playing poker online is not explicitly barred.

The Justice Department used the law in April to shut down and file lawsuits against several poker websites. The lawsuits were one reason for the new bill, Barton said.

“This is a law that is unworkable,” Barton said. “You shouldn’t have the proceeds of a legal activity being illegal.”

Barton estimated that the measure could generate $3 billion annually, which would come from taxing winnings. It would be split between states and the federal government.

Rob Kohler, a lobbyist for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, a religious interest group, fought a slot machine bill in the Texas Legislature – arguing it makes gambling easily accessible to the low-income folks who could develop gambling addictions.

Online poker, he said, would be worse.

“The proximity goes from having to drive somewhere to sitting around in your living room,” Kohler said.

While Barton’s bill would require websites to screen out minors, Kohler said that it would be impossible to keep all youths out of the games. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the bill’s 11 co-sponsors from both parties, said that no system is perfect.

“If you say that no adult can do anything over the Internet unless you are willing to let a child do it, then you might as well shut down the Internet,” Frank said.

Barton and Frank said they hope to pass the bill before the end of the year, and they don’t believe President Barack Obama would object.

“The president is reputed to be a pretty good poker player,” Barton said. “I can’t believe someone from the South Side of Chicago wouldn’t want to support this.”