A new champion is emerging for the licensing and regulation of online poker in the U.S., one who trails only Barney Frank in his importance to the industry's cause on Capitol Hill.
Without Frank, the charismatic congressman from Massachusetts, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act wouldn't be getting serious consideration in the House of Representatives. If the legislation is to win a vote in coming years, it will be Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) who puts it over the top.
King serves dual roles that will prove equally important. First, he is the former chairman and current ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, meaning his support will go a long way to easing concerns from other members of Congress that online poker could serve as a facilitator of money laundering and terrorist activities. Second, as a respected senior member of the Republican party, his ability to bring other Republicans over to the side of official legalization will be essential.
"All prohibitions are well intended," King said of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act at the Dec. 3 hearing held on the poker-related bills in the Financial Services Committee. "Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. Usually they don't. In this case, I don't believe it is. We're losing revenue, and we're not achieving the social purpose that was intended."
King proclaimed his strong support for Frank's bill at the hearing and pledged to vote for it whenever the bill comes in front of the committee for a markup. His support counter-balances the claims of Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala), who produced at the hearing a letter from the FBI's Cyber Division that focused on the money-laundering possibilities in online poker.
King has spent years trying to safeguard the U.S. from terrorist threats in the wake of 9/11.
"No member of this House exceeds him in his concern for public policies that protect us against terrorism," Frank said of King at the hearing.
Any Republicans concerned with Bachus' allegations toward online poker will hear a completely different story from an expert on U.S. security.
"I see no homeland security or terrorists threats or whatever," King asserted at the hearing. "If anything, regulation makes it less likely that there will be any significant threat."
Just four of the 63 members of Congress to sign on as co-sponsors to Frank's licensing and regulation bill are Republicans. Controversial legislation such as this will need bipartisan support to pass because it will never gain near-unanimous support from the Democrats.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex), who twice has run unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination, is another well-known Republican on poker's side. But Paul is known for being a maverick within the party, a reputation that gives him supporters and detractors. King is the only congressman in position to influence enough of his Republican colleagues to come around on the benefits of licensing and regulation to make the difference that will be needed for legislation to pass.
"Peter King has a great reputation and a good understanding of the issue, especially given his position on Homeland Security Committee as to the benefits of regulating Internet gambling against money laundering and fraud," said Michael Waxman, spokesman for the advocate group Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative. "His support shows there is bipartisan support for regulating the industry, and hopefully more of his colleagues will follow."
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