Online Poker's Chances in Congress' Final Stretch of the Year
Congress reconvened Monday for its final weeks before adjourning early for this year's elections, giving online poker a small window for one final push before the regular session ends.
It's already been an unprecedented year for the advancement of people's right to play poker, with Barney Frank's bill to license and regulate Internet gambling passing through the House Financial Services Committee in July.
But progress doesn't carry over from year to year in Congress, and changes from the November election could stop poker's momentum on Capitol Hill.
The next step is for Rep. Jim McDermott's Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act to advance through the Ways and Means Committee. A representative of McDermott told us the Congressman is pushing for a markup of the bill in late September.
Unfortunately, McDermott isn't in the position of Frank, who has the power to decide when a bill will be marked up as chairman of the Financial Services Committee. McDermott must convince Ways and Means chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) to call for the markup.
Congress adjourns on Oct. 8, but Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas expects the representatives to return the week after the Nov. 2 elections for an extended session.
"In past experience, they've worked all the way through Thanksgiving and through Christmas eve when I worked on the Hill," Pappas said. "I wouldn't expect anything different this time around. They have a lot of bills that need to be taken up. They don't have the appropriation bills done. The lame-duck session is going to happen. It's a necessity, no question about it."
The PPA is asking its members who live in the districts of Ways and Means representatives to send a PPA form letter asking for their congressmen to push for a markup and support the legislation. Enter your zip code on the site to find out if your representative is on the committee. Pappas doesn't believe the Ways and Means markup needs to be held in the regular session to keep up poker's momentum.
"If it doesn't happen before the elections, we feel very good we can get a markup and vote during the lame-duck session," he said.
It will take this extended session in addition to some significant political maneuvering from Frank and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for Internet poker legislation to go all the way this year.
Frank has been a champion of people's right to play online poker for years, leaving the impression that he would be willing to pull out all the stops if passing his bill was a real possibility. Reid is the most powerful man in the Senate and he comes from Nevada, where he's influenced by casinos like Harrah's that are pushing for legalized Internet poker. Though Reid is thought to have come around on the idea of poker-only legislation, he has never shown his support publicly. It would be a big leap for him to suddenly be the one to make this happen with a Herculean effort this year.
In other words, poker players should keep their expectations realistic for now. You still have a better chance of rivering that one-outer than a poker bill has of passing through both houses in the small amount of legislative time remaining this year.
But that's still a better chance than online poker has ever had before.
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