Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to answer for the U.S. Justice Department's attack on Internet poker Tuesday at the DOJ oversight hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee.
"It was important that some members raised concerns about the DOJ policy as it relates to Internet poker," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, who attended the hearing along with about 30 PPA employees and members. "We can't say that, because of this hearing, this domino will fall. It's another step forward in an ultimate progression to get licensed and regulated Internet poker. Some good questions were raised about the priority of this administration. But we won't see results tomorrow. It will have to build over time."
It was unclear entering the hearing whether poker would be brought up by members of the committee. Thanks to the efforts of the PPA and its members who flooded the offices of their representatives with phone calls and emails, poker was brought up three times.
After a slow start in which Holder basically laughed off a question from Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virg.) on whether he believed poker was a game of chance or skill, saying he wouldn't answer the question because it was beyond his capabilities, Holder was peppered with questions by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Ten.).
Cohen asked whether Phil Ivey was just lucky. Holder then admitted that he was sure there was some degree of skill in poker. Cohen asked if he really thought we should be spending a lot of time trying to deal with Internet poker, and Holder responded with the company line: "We have to enforce the law as it exists. There are laws on the books in regards to Internet gambling that we have to enforce. We recently announced an action by the Southern District of New York. It is for Congress to decide what the law is going to be, and then we will enforce those laws."
Cohen did not let Holder off the hook, stating, "I agree with you generally. I understand that there were civil rights laws in the 40s and 50s that the government had to defend, and then maybe 10, 12, 15 years later after Thurgood Marshall's arguments and the courts agreement, that they realized those laws weren't valid and the laws changed. ... There's certain laws and, even though it's the law Congress passed, there's a cultural change and the people's perception changes."
Cohen hammered home his point with the question: "Don't you think that maybe, in the priority range, Internet poker would be down at the bottom of the level beneath obscenity, hardcore pornography and child rape, and things like that?" Holder responded that there are a variety of things the DOJ is responsible for, and that he thought the Internet poker case was appropriate because it involved substantial amounts of money and big financial institutions.
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) later began her statement by saying the recent indictments of Internet poker sites have had a significant impact on her constituents because she's heard from a lot of them on this matter, which really indicated that all of the efforts by poker players to voice their concerns are making an impact.
"I'm hoping that's an area you'll look at again in terms of where you dedicate your precious resources," Sanchez said. "I think time, in my humble opinion, would be better spent dealing with bigger and more serious, violent crimes for example, than trying to interrupt an industry which, as I said, has been efficiently regulated in a number of other countries."
There was a moment of controversy prior to the hearing when the PPA members in attendance were told they could not wear the "Poker is not a crime" t-shirts that had been provided to them by the PPA because shirts with logos or statements were not allowed in the hearing. They turned the red shirts inside out, yet committee chairman Lamar Smith instructed the Capitol police to approach the citizens and tell them the shirts must be removed. The PPA members changed back into the shirts they arrived in. Smith was one of the three congressmen who sent a letter to the Senate at the end of last year asking it not to address Internet gambling during the lame-duck session.
Pappas is certain that this won't be the last time that Holder hears from members of Congress and the public regarding the DOJ's focus on Internet poker.
"I think one of the things that will happen from this hearing is that a number of members of Congress spoke to us after the hearing and said they intend to follow up with questions to Holder on this matter," Pappas said. "Some were not able to ask a question or were dissatisfied with his responses. One only has to look at his Facebook page over the last few weeks, as well as the thousands of emails and phone calls his office has received from upset poker players, to realize this is a movement and a concerned community that isn't just going to go away."
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