The House Financial Services Committee's passage of Barney Frank's bill to license and regulate Internet gambling has some overly excited poker players talking about the imminent federal legalization of the activity they love.
The reality is that, while this was an important step, there is a long road ahead before Frank's bill can become law. Here's a look at what's next for poker on Capitol Hill.
Now that Frank's bill is out of the committee, Jim McDermott's companion legislation to establish procedures to tax Internet gambling needs to make its way through the Ways and Means Committee.
Here's the main problem. It may seem like there's five months left in the year, but in Congressional time there's little more than a month remaining.
There's only one week until the House of Representatives goes on recess between August 9 and September 12. A markup isn't going to happen in the Ways and Means Committee this week, so that means the next possible movement for Internet gambling legislation in the House won't be until the middle of September.
"There's a very short window in September we can try to get this done," admits John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance.
The House won't be back long. The target adjournment for the year is October 8. It's possible the session goes long to address pressing legislation, but Internet gambling isn't going keep Congress working overtime.
For Internet gambling legislation to pass this year, McDermott's bill would need to clear the committee, combine with Frank's bill and pass through the full House. Then the Senate would need to pass a similar bill, beginning from the committee stage. And all this would probably need to happen in the month from September 13 to October 8. In other words, the chances of legalized online poker becoming law in 2010 are worse than your chances of rivering that one-outer.
The reason Congress is working so little in the latter stages of the year is the November election. It's projected that Republicans are going to pick up a lot of seats in both houses come November, perhaps taking over the majority. When Frank's bill passed through the House Financial Services Committee last week, it received 34 yes votes and 4 no votes from Democrats and 7 yes votes with 18 no votes from Republicans. The move to a Republican-controlled Congress could halt the progression of Internet gambling legislation for the next two years.
So that's where we stand. Wednesday's vote was an historic first for legislation to license and regulate the online poker industry to receive a positive vote on Capitol Hill. It showed how much opinions on Internet gambling have changed in Congress over the past four years, thanks to the efforts of the PPA and others. Rather than trying to stop online poker, Congress is seriously considering how to work with the industry. But the road to regulation remains long.
Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.