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Poker and Politics: The PPA and the Republican Platform

With the Republican National Convention just a week away, supporters of online gambling have turned their attention to two troubling sentences of the Republican Party's platform: "Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports." On the Republican Party Platform Committee forum, at gopplatform2008.com, the public is urged to submit comments about the proposed platform.

The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) is urging supporters of online gambling to voice their opposition to this language and to seek to have it removed before the platform is approved next week. John Pappas, executive director of PPA, which has over 1 million members, noted, "This shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be a personal-freedom issue."

Greg Raymer, 2004 World Series of Poker champion, is one of many who have written in opposition to the platform's language. "My point is simple. Is the Republican Party no longer the party of personal freedom and individual responsibility?" He added, "Why has this party, that used to protect my rights, now become the party that wants to create a nanny-state?"

While this issue is being debated, the Republican Party and the PPA have recently come together for a good cause, planning a poker charity event to take place on September 3rd during the Republican convention. Like the charity counterpart held in conjunction with the Democrat National Convention this week, next week's event will benefit the Paralyzed Veterans of America which works with veterans experiencing spinal cord injury and diseases. The event, jointly sponsored by the American Gaming Association, will be held at 116 First Avenue North in Minneapolis beginning with a VIP reception from 10:00 pm to 10:30 pm and the tournament starting right after.

The Republican Party has included anti-internet gambling language in each of its party's last two platforms, beginning in 2000 and again in 2004. This is the first time an organized campaign to urge removal of the language has been orchestrated, and the PPA's move has garnered the attention of several U.S. publications, including the Las Vegas Sun. The newspaper not only carried the story, but started its own poll, asking: "Should Republicans adopt a party plank at the upcoming national convention to rescind the ban on Internet gambling?" Thus far, 60% of readers have responded yes.

Significant numbers of online poker supporters have posted their opinions on the Republican website, prompting Lisa Mascaro, the author of the Las Vegas Sun article, to comment: "Go to the Republican Party's Web site and start scrolling through the responses to the platform. You will see an army of poker players arguing it is time for Republicans to end their opposition to gambling online."

Mascaro points out that getting the Republican Party to reconsider and possibly change its opposition to Internet gambling by changing the platform statement could be a long shot. The party has been led by social conservatives for 25 years, she notes, and "values voters" and religious groups have pushed Republicans to take a harder line against gambling as a social ill.

So where do the Republicans stand? "A lot of Republicans have a love-hate relationship with the poker community," CQPolitics quoted John Feehery, former spokesman for former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), as saying. Feehery, whose communications firm represents the PPA, added, "A lot of Republicans play poker, but the Christian right wants to ban poker playing." As an interesting side note, former Republican Congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, who helped write and sponsor the UIGEA, is supporting Democrat Barack Obama while former Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato, chairman of the PPA, has endorsed Republican John McCain.

Getting the Republican Party to outright endorse internet gambling is not the aim of the PPA's efforts at this stage. "Even the most ambitious gamblers know getting Republicans to publicly support them is not a safe bet," Mascaro writes. She notes that even Democrats, who have been friendlier to gambling interests, have no pro-gambling language in their platform, quoting Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) as saying, "While I would support a nod to Internet gaming in the platform, I cannot imagine that such language would be added at this late date."

While the PPA is not expecting pro-internet gambling language in the platform; for now the million-member organization would be satisfied if the Republican Party would remove the anti-internet gambling language. They believe that language violates the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility – long held tenets of the Republican Party. And they urge those who agree to join the more than 160 people who have taken the time to post their comments on the Republican Party website.

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