It would be difficult to imagine a more tilting hearing for poker players to watch than the one Wednesday in the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.
Internet gambling was compared to pornography, discussed as a hotbed of money laundering by criminal organizations and terrorists, and said to be an avenue for human and drug trafficking.
“I think there was some crazy fear mongering at the hearing that really had no basis that we've seen,” said Rich Muny, vice president of player relations for the Poker Players Alliance. “I hope that every poker player has a chance to listen to this because many people think this should be easy. This is a real fight and we need to do our part to advocate for the right to play.”
The archived webcast of the hearing, titled “The Expansion of Internet Gambling: Assessing Consumer Protection Concerns,” and written testimony from witnesses can be viewed here. None of the four witnesses were particularly in favor of online poker regulation.
The Senators themselves seemed more uniformed than at any hearing on the issue since the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006. That's not surprising given that most movement on the issue has taken place in the House of Representatives. Even though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has floated a proposal two of the past three years that would have legalized online poker, no such bill has officially been introduced in the Senate during that time. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who worked with Reid on last year's proposal, is ranking member of the subcommittee.
In a roundabout way, there were some good developments from the hearing. The committee members seemed to uniformly agree that the current system isn't working and that the federal government needs to step in to ensure consumer protection.
“One of the positives of the hearing is that it was clear everything they're concerned about would be addressed best with a good regime of licensing and regulation,” Muny said. “Prohibition really wouldn't address any of them. We'd be in the same place as today, except maybe the DOJ would have some more tools.”
Most of the Senators and witnesses seemed to be considering regulation and prohibition as options. The only person to speak against prohibition was witness Jack Blum, an attorney specializing in money laundering compliance, who said, “I do not believe prohibiting Internet gambling will work. The horse has left the barn. The Internet is too open to control and, in any event, controls will not work across state and national borders.”
Sen. Heller did make the case for online poker being separated from other forms of gambling.
“I also believe that Congress should examine the merits of providing a path forward for limited federally regulated online poker,” Heller said. “Poker, a game of skill not a game of chance, is different than other house-banked games such as blackjack or roulette. I believe that, if given the opportunity, appropriate consumer protection standards could be put in place to protect American consumers while still providing for play of this nationally recognized peer-to-peer game.”
At least the Senators are now thinking that unregulated online gambling is a problem they need to address. Getting more Senators interested in taking action on the issue is the biggest key at this point, trusting that Senate Majority Leader Reid should be able to mold that interest in a way that allows regulated online poker for the casinos in his home state of Nevada.
“I can't see how the Senate would be able to push something past Sen. Reid that would ban online poker outright,” Muny said. “I think we're in an interesting position where we're gearing up the Senate, not in the way I would do it but in a way they know that the status quo is not acceptable and something needs to be done.”