Online poker's opponents have ramped up efforts over the past month with 25 religious and family values groups sending two letters to congressional leaders asking for stricter laws against Internet gambling.
These are many of the same groups that pushed for the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 — reason enough for poker players to view them as a threat to personal freedom.
Now these groups see federal and state governments considering online poker regulation in light of the DOJ's opinion that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting, and they are asking for Congress to strengthen the Wire Act and UIGEA to stop that from happening.
"Six years ago, Congress voted overwhelmingly to protect vulnerable communities within our country as well as the integrity of professional sports by stopping the expansion of gambling on the Internet," stated one letter dated May 17 sent to Speaker of the House John Boehner from 12 groups that included the Christian Coalition. "Unfortunately Congress' clear intent in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 is now under assault and we are writing to urge you to work once again to protect those most at risk from the proliferation of illegal internet gambling."
A second letter was sent at the beginning of this month by family values groups in 13 states.
John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, doesn't think the letters will have much of an impact on his organization's push for regulation of Internet poker in the U.S.
"I don't think the letters were taken very seriously," Pappas said. "This position is one they've held for a long time. I don't think their position comes as a surprise to anyone who opened and read the letter. I think their position will come under advisement and hopefully serve as rationale for compromise that would allow for Internet poker with strengthening for other activities."
The positions of these groups and the PPA aren't that far off. The PPA is advocating legislation like the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act proposed by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) in Congress.
That bill strengthens UIGEA against most forms of Internet gambling, as these groups want, while providing safeguards and consumer protection in the currently unregulated U.S. online poker market. Pappas indicated that the PPA has tried to reach a common ground with some of these groups in the past without success.
"It does not appear as if they are willing to accept any form of regulated Internet gaming," Pappas said. "They would like it to continue as unregulated, offshore and out of their eyesight. I think they are more than happy to live their lives with their heads in the sand."
These religious groups do have sympathetic representatives in the House. There is a danger that this push could lead to one of those congressmen introducing legislation to strengthen UIGEA and specifically ban online poker. There hasn't been a bill in Congress targeting online poker since UIGEA.
"That's definitely a possibility," Pappas said. "We just need to be aware of it. When and if it does happen, the PPA and our membership have to aggressively try to defeat it."
The difference now from six years ago is that there is a more organized and vocal poker community, as well as many Congressmen who support online poker legislation.
"I think the idea that Congress will pass a bill in this area that doesn't address regulation is very unlikely," Pappas said.
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