On Thursday, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) introduced a House bill designed to exempt so-called 'skill' games such as poker and mahjong from the reach of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The Skill Game Protection Act (H.R. 2610) seeks to amend the 1961 Federal Wire Act in a way that would distinguish such skill-based games from the kinds of sports betting covered in that law, as well as from "game[s] based on chance" as outlined in the UIGEA.
The Skill Game Protection Act is the third House bill introduced in the last five weeks that responds in some fashion to the UIGEA. In late April, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046), a bill designed to license qualified businesses to operate online gambling sites within carefully-considered guidelines. In early May, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) introduced H.R. 2140 to provide for a study of internet gambling by the National Academy of Sciences.
Whereas the UIGEA speaks in broad terms regarding any "game based on chance," Wexler's bill draws a distinction between "[g]ames where success is predominantly determined by the skill of the players involved" and such "games of chance." The Skill Game Protection Act specifically proposes to clarify the 1961 Wire Act's references to "bets or wagers" so as "not [to] include operating, or participation in, poker, chess, bridge, mahjong or any other game where success is predominantly determined by a player's skill."
The Poker Players' Alliance has already announced its support of Wexler's bill. "Congressman Wexler's legislation is necessary to provide equitable treatment for true games of intellect and competitions among individuals," said PPA Chairman Alphonse D'Amato. "This skill based competition is the true spirit of the game, and the reason for its popularity whether it is played at the World Series of Poker, over the internet or at your kitchen table," added D'Amato.
Congressman Wexler was present along with other members of the House Financial Services Committee and invited witnesses at today's committee hearing addressing the question "Can Internet Gambling Be Effectively Regulated to Protect Consumers and the Payments System?"
While today's hearing largely focused on Frank's proposed IGREA — which makes no distinctions between different forms of gambling — Wexler did make such a distinction in his remarks. "The real issue," said Wexler, "is adults that want to gamble on games of skill, in particular, like poker and mahjong — why not? Why should we make it into an illegal behavior?"