Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is expected to make a statement Friday that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner granted the Poker Players Alliance's petition to delay the compliance date for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
The Poker Players Alliance declined to comment on the possible delay until official word comes from Frank or the Treasury Department. Joe Brennan, chairman of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, confirmed that he did hear directly from one of the parties to the agreement that Geithner granted a six-month delay. The six months would be a compromise to the year requested by the PPA and Frank.
Word of the delay comes just days before the Dec. 1 date when banks and financial institutions were to be held responsible for making sure no outgoing transactions were made to web sites related to what was termed as "illegal Internet gambling."
"It's really surprising we got this concession," Brennan said. "It's very unusual for any department of the government to essentially forestall an act of Congress. This is a testament to the power of Congressmen Frank. This has been his pet issue, because it is part of his core values, for some time now. If Barney Frank was not an advocate, this does not get done regardless of the efforts of the PPA and the banking industry."
Frank made a telling indication that a delay will happen by scheduling for Dec. 3 a hearing in the House Financial Services Committee to discuss his two poker-related bills — including the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act that asks to delay full implementation of the UIGEA until Dec. 1, 2010. It wouldn't make sense to hear discussion of delaying a law that went into full effect two days earlier.
The six-month delay, while not a victory in itself, sets the stage for future victories by giving Frank time to address his other bill, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. Because of his important role in shaping the economic stimulus and health care legislation that has dominated this session of Congress, Frank had not found the time to hold a committee hearing on the bills that relate to the poker industry.
"We thought it would probably have to wait until January, so we're pleasantly surprised to see this happen in December," PPA executive director John Pappas said of the hearing. "I think Barney is sending a strong message to regulators and others that he's serious about changing this law. He's going to move forward with his plans to license and regulate this industry."
The PPA filed a joint petition along with the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and American Greyhound Track Operators Assocation early in October to delay the compliance date of the UIGEA. Frank followed by hand delivering to Geithner a letter signed by 19 members of Congress supporting the petition. The request received a boost earlier this week when six Kentucky congressmen wrote a letter supporting the delay, citing specific incidents of a credit card company blocking horse racing transactions despite the sport having an exemption in the legislation.
It remains to be seen how the banks and credit card companies will respond to a delay. The situation likely will remain similar to recent months, where some are blocking transactions and some are not. But the six-month stay should prevent blocking from getting worse.
"Do I think things will automatically loosen between the banks and credit card companies?" asked Brennan. "No. They've already moved up to this point in the regulations. They're not going to tear it up and say now we have this six-month window. They're going to take a wait-and-see attitude."
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