The Poker Players Alliance is preparing a letter to send to the offices of Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ari.) detailing concerns with the recently released draft bill that would establish licensed and regulated online poker while prohibiting other forms of Internet gambling.
John Pappas, executive director of the PPA, said the letter would address player concerns, as well as changes, to make the bill more passable.
Criminal penalties for players, which were the PPA's biggest concern last month with the release of the summary text, will not be an issue. The draft bill does not include them. Pappas said his understanding is that player penalties never were in the bill, but the vague wording about forfeitures in the summary text made that unclear.
Other concerns are familiar ones that the PPA voiced about the summary text, including a reduction of the proposed 15-month waiting period from enactment until play can start and to leave the door open for future international play.
Pappas said the PPA would be bringing up the requirement for all states to opt in by a legislative vote, even though he previously has said that the PPA is willing to accept the opt-in requirement as a fight it cannot win. The Reid online poker proposal that leaked in 2010 automatically opted in any states that already allowed for poker in some form.
"I think we have the obligation to let them know we're concerned about it," Pappas said. "They had language in previous bills that was marginally better, automatically opting in I think 15 states that had commercial poker. We'd like to see them go back to that previous language. I don't think we have much hope they will, but I think we have the obligation to advocate for it."
Two potential opponents who could derail the bill are Indian tribes and state lotteries. Pappas said D.C. lobbyists for the tribes have told him that even tribes in favor of the general idea of online poker would oppose the bill as currently constructed. Their main issue, according to Pappas, is one specific provision that makes it so that if a state opts out, tribes within the state are not allowed to opt in.
"They feel that is an affront to their tribal sovereignty, that decisions made by the state should not affect decisions they make for their own tribal lands," Pappas said. "As much as that may be a sticking point for tribes, we'd like to see it removed. Certain tribes will oppose it even with this change, but I think the tribes who would normally be supportive could once again say this is a good bill if that change is made."
Pappas doesn't think anything can be done to gain the support of state lotteries. Lotteries interested in offering online poker would face challenges competing in an open market, and the prohibition part of the legislation would prevent them from offering online scratch-off tickets in the future.
"There are a number of powerful lotteries that will say this is a bad bill and try to convince state lawmakers to oppose it," Pappas said. "I think the bottom line of lotteries is they're not interested in finding a solution for a federal bill. I think they would rather be able to offer online lottery ticket sales on a state-by-state basis."
The lotteries could prove to be a major roadblock, as state lotteries obviously hold great influence over the federal legislators representing their states who will ultimately vote on the legislation. Pappas said the lotteries represent one voice lawmakers will weigh, and that players need to provide their voices as rank-and-file constituents.
The hope is for the bill, officially titled the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2012, to be attached by Senate Majority Leader Reid to must-pass legislation during the lame-duck period of Congress following the Nov. 6 elections and prior to the end of the year.
Rich Muny, vice president of player relations for the PPA, told PokerFuse that he thought the prospects for that happening were a coin flip or better. Pappas isn't willing to go that far.
"I think we have to have a lot of things happen before we can even talk about a coin flip," Pappas said. "The election will be a big indicator of what will happen in the lame duck. I think we have to wait until after the election before I can give a better prediction."
With the importance of the election in mind, Pappas said the PPA PAC will be releasing its endorsements of candidates in select races next week, focusing on A-rated candidates from the PPA's congressional ratings and poorly rated candidates that are vulnerable. Pappas said the PPA PAC would not make an endorsement in the interesting Nevada Senate race between two key poker supporters in incumbent Republican Dean Heller and current Democratic Congressman Shelley Berkley. Both the candidates have A grades from the PPA. Heller, along with Kyl, have been asked by Reid to deliver Republican support for the bill.
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