Robert Wexler is a Congressman from the 19th District in Florida who recently introduced what could be a very important piece of legislation for poker players. The Skill Game Protection Act seeks create a 'carve out' in the current legislative environment such that poker could be classified as a game of skill, and in turn citizens would be permitted to play poker on the Internet. Carve outs currently exist for things like horse racing, and lotteries on the internet, and the Skill Game Protection Act seeks to add poker to that list. We sat down with Congressman Wexler recently to get his views on the state of the union of poker on the hill.
John Caldwell (Pokernews): Congressman Wexler, thanks for joining us, I appreciate you taking the time. You recently introduced the Skill Game Protection Act into the Congress. I know this is a piece of legislation you have very high hopes for. What motivated you to take on this cause?
Congressman Robert Wexler: In the last Congress when Republicans controlled the Congress, we passed a very bad piece of legislation. I voted against it as did most democrats. In essence, it's the newest form of prohibition. The prohibition is consenting adults cannot play poker over the Internet. Ironically, the Congress, the last Congress, said you can gamble on horses over the Internet, you can play State lotteries over the Internet but you can't play games of skill over the Internet. I thought as really a matter of personal freedom more than anything else, Congress should not be telling consenting adults in America what games they can play on the Internet. I was motivated to file legislation once the Democrats got control of the Congress; I knew there would be a more amenable environment to do this type of thing. What I've learned is that poker is even far more popular than I ever dreamed it was. Apparently, more Americans watch poker on television that watch college football or NBA basketball, which is an extraordinary statement. Presidents have played poker in the White House, members of Congress played poker in the capital, and obviously millions of Americans played poker at their kitchen tables and dining room tables and have played poker on the Internet. It's the 21st century - there is no reason in the world why people can't play poker, play chess, play Mahjong, play bridge, any game of skill on the Internet as long as we have protections, which we do, to make sure teenagers, young people aren't on there gambling, and that we prevent money laundering from happening, and we have the technology to do that.
Pokernews: That's an interesting question, an interesting point. You've obviously taken the skill based approach. Your piece of legislation is essentially an attempt to exempt skill based games from a prior piece of legislation. Why did you feel that was the best approach to accomplish the in goal of allowing these personal freedoms take place?
Wexler: Politics is the art of trying to analyze what is possible. There are some people that have a moral or ethical issue with gambling of any sorts. I would respectfully suggest they were a bit hypocritical when they voted for this bill, because the bill that is currently in effect, allows gambling on the Internet for lottery and for horses. However, I thought it would be most palatable if we said, "games of skill such as poker are American institutions - poker is an American institution just like baseball." When put in that context I thought it would be a more palatable political issue for many people. I happen to also think that the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, has a bill that would apply to credit card transactions of all type of wagering on the Internet. I think that's a great bill too. I'm a sponsor of that bill. I think that should pass and that would be a very important legislation to pass.
Pokernews: That was actually my next question. There are two other pieces of legislation in addition to your legislation that are currently out there. Can these pieces of legislation co-exist? Do they actually help each other? Or is there is sort of a mitigating effect involved with them being in play at the same time?
Wexler: There is the Barney Frank's legislation, which I am a sponsor of, which would permit credit card transactions regarding wagering on the Internet. There's Congresswoman Shelley Berkley's bill, which would study the broader issue of Internet gaming, which I'm also very supportive of. And there is my bill, which would provide for, as you say, the added exemptions for games of skill. I think all three actually work well together. Because of what they have done and we need to do even more, is that we've raised the level of awareness as to how absurd the current law is and that we need to fix it. The fix I hope will be to ultimately permit adults, consenting adults, to play whatever games they wish, wherever they wish it, in a consenting fashion. Every American, whether they are Conservative Republican or Liberal Democrat, or anywhere in between should be asking themselves with all that is going wrong in the world, whether it's Iraq, whether it's Iran's nuclear quest, whether it's social security, not having enough money necessarily to make it through the next century, medicare short falls, education problems… Why would Congress invest itself so to create this extraordinary prohibition of preventing consenting adults from playing poker on the Internet when we know in past experience prohibition doesn't work? The net result unfortunately will be, people will be forced to play the Internet, playing poker on the Internet on offshore sites where they're not secure. They will be playing on Russian sites, or Caribbean sites. There will be no regulation by American governmental structures; there will be no revenue to American governmental structures. It's counterproductive and also in my mind it violates the very personal freedoms that we cherish as Americans.
Pokernews: That leads me to another question I find interesting. Why now? What do you think? Can you put your finger on one thing that has caused there to be so much interest on the Hill on this specific issue? If there is one thing you put your finger on what would it be?
Wexler: I'd say two things. One, poker is a national pastime in America. Congress has stepped over the line, threatening that national pastime. The second thing, which has to be said, is there is new leadership in Congress. Under the old leadership, under the Republican leadership, this would have never been reconsidered. But under the Democratic leadership, under the leadership of Barney Frank – is Chairman of the Financial Services Committee - there is an opportunity for Democrats to make a change and for Democrats, like me and Shelley Berkley, to have a bigger impact on the process.
Join us tomorrow for part two of our interview with Congressman Wexler where he discusses how his colleagues are reacting to his bill, and when he thinks some real change might come around.