A new bill introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Clarification and Implementation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6663), attempts to offer further insight on what America's 2006 UIGEA is supposed to accomplish. However, the bill has already drawn the ire of many within the poker world, including the Poker Players Alliance, which issued a statement refusing to endorse Sessions' bill in its present form.
The language in Sessions' bill does not actually clarify the UIGEA's most glaring flaw, the law's lack of a workable definition for "unlawful internet gambling," but instead tries to parse its way around the UIGEA hole by stating that the UIGEA is intended to go after sportsbooks and online sportsbetting. (Major professional sports leagues such as the NFL lobbied strongly to get the UIGEA passed.) According to H.R. 6663's language, "No provision of this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, shall be construed as clarifying or implying that Internet bets or wagers, other than sports bets or wagers, which were accepted subsequent to October 13, 2006, are in violation of Federal law."
While the above language seems designed to carve a legal escape clause for firms such as PartyGaming, which offered other online gambling services but not, specifically, an online sportsbook, language elsewhere in the proposed bill mentions online poker specifically and seems to define it as an illegal activity under the UIGEA, whereas the UIGEA itself makes no mention whatsoever of the game. According to H.R. 6663: "Federal Internet gambling prosecutions have involved sports betting, creating a lack of authoritative court decisions on the applicability of other federal criminal statutes to Internet poker and casino-style gambling."
However, in a response to the bill's introduction, PPA Chairman Alfonse D'Amato noted that as passed, online poker cannot be considered an illegal activity under the UIGEA or previous gambling-related laws. According to D'Amato and the PPA: "We are, however, puzzled by the introduction of H.R. 6663 and by the purpose of this legislation. While we agree with several findings in the bill that correctly identify the illegality of sports wagering, the PPA remains concerned with the implication H.R. 6663 asserts in that the [UIGEA] has made Internet poker an unlawful activity that needs special protection from prosecution.
"Previous federal case law (re: Mastercard 2002) made it clear that existing federal criminal law (WIRE Act of 1961) applies only to sports wagering, and not to internet poker. Further, the UIGEA itself states, 'No provision of this law shall be construed as altering, limiting or extending any Federal or State law.' Thus, H.R. 6663 only confuses a clear judicial standing on this matter."
The PPA statement continued by noting that the Sessions bill "does nothing to clarify the UIGEA" and "contradicts its own rule of construction by implying in its findings that the sites on which millions of Americans currently play are offering poker services in defiance of federal law."
The Sessions bill had three Democratic co-sponsors at the time of its introduction – Marion Berry (AR), Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL) and Bill Delahunt (MA). The bill's future is cloudy at best. Congress recently went on its summer break, and though it will return to session in September, legislative output traditionally lags in the months immediately preceding a national election, which occurs this November.