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Why Has Co-Sponsorship on Joe Barton's Internet Poker Bill Stalled?

Poker Politics

Joe Barton told PokerNews last month that he thought his bill to license and regulate Internet poker had the votes to pass on the House floor. According to the Congressman from Texas, it's just a matter of getting the legislation up for a vote, which he hopes will happen next summer.

This was an encouraging and exciting declaration for poker players hoping to get back to playing online poker in a safe and secure environment. But the proclamation raises one question: If support for the bill is that strong, why does it only have 26 co-sponsors?

There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives, so 218 votes are needed to pass a bill. Twenty-six co-sponsors plus Barton is about 12 percent of the way there.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011, also known as HR 2366, was introduced by Barton in late June with a head start of 11 original co-sponsors. It reached its current total of 26 by mid-August, meaning it hasn't picked up any added support over the last four months.

During that time, online poker was discussed twice in the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, of which Barton is a member. However, no one else has put their name on his bill.

In comparison, Barney Frank's Internet gambling licensing and regulation bill hit 70 co-sponsors last year, yet no one thought it had anywhere close to the votes to pass on the House floor.

"As an organization, we haven't really pushed much for co-sponsorship since the summer," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, which brought the idea of introducing the bill to Barton. "Rep. Barton would rather add a Republican and add a Democrat rather than add five-to-six Democrats at a time."

Even though the bill was introduced by a Republican, the 26 co-sponsors break down to 19 Democrats and seven Republicans.

"I think there are a lot of Republicans who will ultimately vote for the bill but are less inclined to put their names on as a co-sponsor unless pressed to vote on it," Pappas said.

Certainly, the bill doesn't need a lot of co-sponsors as long as it has influential people working behind the scenes to get it to a vote. The purpose of co-sponsors is to show House leadership that a bill needs to be addressed.

It's fair that online poker is an issue that many representatives wouldn't take up as a cause to actively support, yet would vote for when called upon — particularly a bill that is framed as one that, while allowing poker, strengthens restrictions against other forms of online gambling.

While poker players want to believe in Barton's declaration, it's best to remain cautious in expectations until the bill proves to have the momentum that he predicts.

"We may want to restore a push for co-sponsors in the beginning of the new year," Pappas said.

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