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Poker As a Game of Skill: Interview With Congressman Robert Wexler, Part Two

Poker As a Game of Skill: Interview With Congressman Robert Wexler, Part Two 0001

In part one of our interview with Congressman Robert Wexler yesterday, we discussed the piece of legislation that he recently introduced into Congress. In part two of the interview, Wexler talks about the process that must be undertaken to get bills like his 'Skill Game Protection Act' passed.

Pokernews: Do you actually feel a sense of movement among your colleagues? Do you feel people gravitating towards this issue, and people becoming interested? Even people who were opposed, or people that voted for the legislation that was passed last year, do you feel sort of a tide, a ground swell if you will, of real interest that can enact real change?

Wexler: It's hard to feel a ground swell in Washington over few issues or many issues, it's hard, but the bottom line is there are thousands of poker players in every Congressional district in America. If people who are interested and enjoy playing poker, if one one-hundredth of those people take a small amount of time to contact in one way or another their member of Congress and say, "Hey, Mr. or Mrs. Member of Congress, why in God's name would you vote to prohibit me, a adult, to choose to play whatever game I want to play on the Internet?" The more people engage in the political process in that fashion, the more compelling it will be, and Congress will react. What I think most Americans don't appreciate, letters DO matter to members of Congress. Emails DO matter, form letters, personal letters DO matter, telephone calls do matter. There has been an article or two about this issue. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal, there have been articles on others, and it is just anecdotal. But I got a bigger response from just being in one line in an article about a poker issue than I have in just about any other issue I've been involved in, in my twelve years in Congress.

Pokernews: And that's really what causes people in your position react, right?

Wexler: Yeah, absolutely.

Pokernews: And you as a member of Congress get this sense that these people really want this thing and you have to help make it happen.

Wexler: People enjoy playing poker. They enjoy playing whatever games they're accustomed to playing, and when the Federal Government steps literally into your home and says "Were telling you from Washington you can't play poker on the Internet!" People get offended, rightfully so.

Pokernews: What's next? What's going to push it over the top? Is it a revenue issue like figuring out a way to monetize and gain revenue or at least get the Federal Government involved from the revenue side? Is it simply a personal privacy issue? What's the next step?

Wexler: Like most things in politics, it's a combination of things. I think the issue of personal freedom and privacy is very important. I think the idea that we would in effect create another category of prohibition in this country in people think about it will say, "That's insane!" When you boil it down to its very bottom line, which is "I can't play poker on the Internet!" that it will have a big impact, and a whole host of things. There will be some people that say, "You know, the Internet is the venue of the 21st century for everything. So, the idea that we would prohibit poker and other games of skill, is not only just counterproductive, it's antiquated! So I think there is a whole host of different things. And, yes there will be a question of regulation and revenue. There will be a question of …most people say "This isn't going to stop it anyway, it will just force people into a different venue that is less safe, less secure and will cause more problems than we were designing to cure in the first place."

Pokernews: One thing I've been fascinated with and I assume you talk to these people, what's the position of big gaming on this issue? Have you talked to people from MGM/Mirage, from Harrah's? Where do they stand and what are you feeling from them? Is this a business they want to enter? Do you get any sense of where they're at on this issue?

Wexler: I'm not an expert on the gaming industry. What I do know is that the gaming industry is not monolithic by any means. There is a variety of opinions, but the one thing I think everyone in the gaming industry does believe is that the current law is hypocritical, because it exempts out state lotteries which, if I understand the statistics correctly, the poorest people are more likely to engage in gambling in the lottery than there are in poker or any other form of gambling. So the terrible irony is we permitted the one form of gambling that actually hurts the poorest people, that we made an exception for where the payout is the least and so forth. What the gaming industry also rightfully recognizes is the horses were given a special exemption. I think what the gaming industry, more than anything, wants there to be in Washington an understanding that the gaming industry is an industry like all other industries, and it should be treated like part of our economy, an important part of our economy, and it shouldn't be treated in any specialised fashion, neither singled out for certain types of punitive regulations or otherwise. I think if that were to happen, the gaming industry in general would be satisfied. In the short term, I think what they would like to see is a very punitive, hypocritical counterproductive law overturned.

Pokernews: Okay, fair enough. As you may have learned in your time of being exposed to poker players. Poker players are not the most patient breed of people. The question I'm asked the most, actually when people come to me they assume I have more knowledge about this issue. Time line – is there any way to put any type of time line towards any decision in either direction, whether it's real change on this issue, or status quo, or whatever?

Wexler: I wish there were, but in Washington it's a very difficult thing to do. Right now we're in the hearing process. We're just energizing. It's going to take a significant amount of effort, public awareness, and energy on behalf of the poker playing public to move Congress. Congress hasn't set a date yet and much for us to get our troops out of Iraq. I hope we're playing poker at the same time, before we're getting out of Iraq. I think we should be out of Iraq yesterday.

Pokernews: Absolutely…I appreciate your time. You've already touched on this but I would like you to just reiterate it because I want people to listen to what you say. What can the average poker player do who lives in the 19th district or anywhere, with respect to getting some movement on this issue?

Wexler: The 19th district of Florida, they could just continue to vote for me and everything will be fine. {smiles} But in all the other 434 districts what they ought to do is let their opinions be known to their member of Congress. One - let them know that they're aware of the current law that was passed by the last Congress, which hopefully they think is ludicrous. They don't need to spell out in specifics everything that needs to be done. They just need to tell the member of Congress "We think the law that was passed last Congress is awful! You should support Wexler's bill that creates the ability for people to play games of skill on the Internet. Support that bill, and support Barney Frank's bill, and support Shelley Berkley's bill. But most importantly, to give Americans their freedom back, their freedom of choice when it comes to playing games on the Internet."

Pokernews: Great. Congressman, we really appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us.

[B]Wexler: My pleasure.

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