Good news for poker players was reported Monday in the New York Times: former Republican Senator from New York, Alfonse D'Amato, has signed on to lead the lobbying efforts of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), a grassroots group with 160,000 members seeking to protect the rights of U.S. citizens with respect to online poker. With his lobbying clout, D'Amato is expected to be a major asset in the quest to carve out an explicit exemption for poker in the recently-passed Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), passed in October 2006. While the UIGEA does not make playing poker on the internet a crime, it has already had far-reaching negative implications for poker players, by making it illegal for financial institutions to handle transactions between US residents and internet gambling sites. As a result of the legislation, numerous sites have stopped taking action from US players, and it has become increasingly difficult for players to fund their online accounts.
Securing the right to play poker online is likely to be an uphill battle, one that may take years, but D'Amato certainly seems to be the right man for the job. He is an avid poker player who, during his time in the Senate, hosted a weekly game in his office on Capitol Hill. D'Amato told the Times that "'You can't cork this. You can't stop this through some silly bill.'" He noted further that the UIGEA simply drives poker underground, and pointed out that, with regulation, "'...you can ensure you have a game that won't be unfairly...manipulated." D'Amato founded and heads Park Strategies, a successful lobbying firm, in 1998.
In his interview with the Times, D'Amato described poker as "a great sport." That sentiment is certainly echoed by the millions of people who play the game, both online and off, and watch it being played frequently on television.
In related news, the US may face legal action from European financial regulators who view the UIGEA as a form of protectionism designed to stop foreign businesses from competing with US gambling companies. Such action would certainly bolster the cause of D'Amato and the PPA.