Poker as Politics - Interview with Alfonse D'Amato, Part One
Senator Alfonse D'Amato loves the game of poker. D'Amato has been known to play poker with groups of friends in New York, including top radio personality Howard Stern. D'Amato has been tapped as the Chairman of the Poker Players Alliance, and we sat down with him recently to get his thoughts on the current state of the Union – of poker.
John Caldwell (PokerNews): Senator, How are you feeling today? Are you enjoying yourself in Las Vegas thus far?
Alfonse D'Amato: I am enjoying myself. The World Series of Poker is absolutely fantastic, seventeen hundred people in one room! And that's just in one sitting, I mean; I think they have four different groups. It's fabulous and the Poker Players Alliance is happy to be here and we are actually looking to recruit more members. You know, we've grown from one hundred thousand to six hundred thousand members and our goal is to get it up to a million, so that we can help the little guy who has been taken advantage of by the Congress when they passed a bill outlawing, effectively outlawing, the playing of poker on the Internet. Ridiculous! Everybody is going to the Internet to shop, for entertainment, etc., and here our government comes in to your home literally, and says, "Well, it's okay, we'll let you bet on horse-racing." Thank-you big brother. "We'll let you play the lottery. We'll let you play fantasy sports, but if you want to play poker, oh no! It will be a crime, because you see the credit-card facilitators will not be allowed to handle these bets." It's ridiculous.
PokerNews: Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. So what got you interested in getting involved with the Poker Players Alliance and taking up this cause on the behalf of poker players?
D'Amato: I think it's so unjust what the Congress did in the middle of the night to pass this bill. Someone has got to speak up for the little guy. The Poker Players Alliance was formed just for that. I think a number of people on the Board knew that I was a poker enthusiast. I have been for many, many years. So, this is an opportunity to try to revisit with some of my former colleagues in the Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and say to them "Hey, listen, there's a better way. If you're concerned about underaged gamblers, don't try to ban poker for everybody. Why should people who are older, mature people, be precluded? There are programs today where by you can absolutely control the age question, and eliminate virtually any of the underaged players. So, what you should do is see to it that the facilities that operate have these programs, that you enforce it! That you police it! And by the way, there is such a thing called parental responsibility. I'm worried about young people becoming addicted; et cetera, and I think there should be screening. And anyone who offers these games should have the necessary software to screen out youngsters and prevent them to get on. But there is such a thing as parental responsibility. By attempting to ban it or by effectively banning it for everyone, I think that is overkill. I think it is wrong. And I don't think "Big Brother Government" should be coming in to our homes and saying 'It's a crime that will be committed if you're playing on the Internet if you're playing poker, but it's okay to bet on the ponies.'" Now, I think it's ridiculous!
PokerNews: Absolutely. You know, you bring up a good point. There are a few pieces of legislation out there at the moment, and I wonder if you might give us your thoughts with respect to: Number one, can they co-exist? Number two; you've been around Washington for a long time. If you've got multiple bills trying to move toward the same objective, albeit in very different ways, is there a way to sort of combine those pieces of legislation? What's the best way to make the most progress for poker players?
D'Amato: I think the three pieces of legislation, one has been introduced by Congresswoman Berkley, and that calls for a study. I think a study is a good idea. I don't think it's the be-all/end-all, nor does she. But what it does, and what it will eventually do, is give us facts so that people, instead of acting on myths, etcetera…. If you say "I'm concerned about youngsters becoming addicted to this" why don't you find out about the programs that can prevent 99 plus percent from participating Are we better off utilizing those programs than just banning it and then having an illegal operation offshore that you can't control and will permit youngsters since they are operating extra-territorial. So the Berkley legislation is very good. Then, there is the legislation which encompasses all gaming activities, and that's sponsored by Chairman Barney Frank and it is a very good bill. What he's really saying is: people who want to play mahjong, or whatever other game they want to play on the Internet, who's the government to tell them they should or shouldn't be doing it? And by the way, we're running afoul of the law. The WTO (The World Trade Organization) has found that we're violating the law. The consequences are now that Japan is suing us, Canada is suing us, Australia is suing us, and the European Common Market. The total economic damage to our trade may go into the tens of billions of dollars. This is silly. So the Frank bill really calls for legalization and it calls for, to be the proper regulation. Regulate it! Tax it! But don't try to ban it! And then there is the Congressman Wexler's legislation. He more specifically, he brings the car out like it was done for protecting racing interests. He says, "Poker is a game of skill," which it is, and it is certainly more skillful than playing the lottery or fantasy sports. So, it's a game of skill, "Therefore, we should permit it and you can regulate it." So all three go in the right direction and there will be a compromise as they move along.
PokerNews: So what's the priority from your colleague's point, from the Senators, the people on the hill? Is the priority one of finding a way to create revenue or to at least manage the money that goes in and out? Is it a personal-freedom issue? What are you feeling the most from those people?
D'Amato: I think it is a personal-freedom issue. I certainly do. It's an intrusion on people's freedom. If someone can't go to a casino for whatever reason, maybe they don't have transportation, maybe it's too far away, etcetera, you mean it's okay for me to play poker in a casino but I can't play on the Internet. What rubbish! What nonsense! You want to protect children? Fine, see that the programs are built in that will maintain an age. If you say it's twenty-one, you can't play at twenty-one, then make sure they have the programs that will screen out youngsters under twenty-one. And again, there is such a thing called parental responsibility. I didn't know Big Brother Government would stop everybody from being able to play because you're concerned about people of twenty-one, it's like Prohibition, it didn't work. So, if poker players would raise their voice, this is one of great American traditions, playing poker. Almost all of the Presidents, a good number of them, have played poker. Even the members of Congress, what duplicity, we can play but you can't. Nonsense! They are to raise their voice, let their Congressman know, pick up the phone, tell them, "We've joined Poker Players Alliance and we're concerned about whether or not you are giving us back our right to participate on the Internet and play the games of choices that we think are important to us. Not that you tell us 'No, it's not important, we want to keep youngsters out, therefore were banning it.'"
Join us tomorrow for part two of the interview with Senator D'Amato, where the Senator discusses where he feels the legislative movement toward regulation of online poker is going.