The US online gambling and poker market could finally get the government's approval and become a legal and regulated business if a House subcommittee's decisions go through and get the needed support in congress. After the hearing which took place on Tuesday, October 25th The Hill quoted Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Manufacturing subpanel who said that the committee would deliberate before taking any further actions.
The committee hearing gathered lawyers, egambling business representatives, lawmakers, and other interested parties to discuss the possibility of internet gambling becoming a legal and regulated industry. The meeting gave positive results with members of the committee coming to general agreement that the US casinos, card rooms, and racetracks should be able to provide their clients with online services.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) made his point in poker's favor by saying he learned the game in the Boy Scouts: “If you learned something in the Boy Scouts, it has to be a good thing.” Barton is known for his efforts to legalize poker – this summer he introduced legislation which would allow poker to become a legitimate and regulated business.
He also noted that poker is a well-respected game of skill played even by American presidents – Richard Nixon financed his first congressional campaign partially through his poker winnings while President Obama is known to be an excellent card player. The names Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) were mentioned as well to bring out those supporting the poker bill. “If you’ve got a bill they are all for, who can be against it?” Barton asked.
Other lawmakers argued that millions of American citizens are currently gambling online supporting the offshore online gambling providers with $6 billion each year. If the business was to be licensed and regulated, that money could benefit the state budget and cover some of the federal deficit as well as be used for public needs.
A former Sen. Alfonso D’Amato (R-N.Y.), now the chairman of the Poker Players Alliance (http://theppa.org/) noted that while gambling offshore players can also be easily scammed as they lack security and guarantees they will receive their winnings. He also said that the Obama administration’s crackdown on the industry earlier this year has only served to drive the game underground, where players have no assurances that games are fair or that they will be paid if they win. “The status quo is badly broken and benefits no one,” D’Amato said. “Internet poker has not gone away and it’s hard to envision a scenario where it will.”
He also addressed the state lottery organizers who expressed opposition to online gambling legalization stating that this could lead to lotteries losing their customers causing less income to the state coffers. “We believe that people who buy lottery tickets are generally not the same people and we don’t believe they really compete,” said D’Amato making his point that online poker brings no competition for the lotteries.
Ranking committee member G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) supported D’Amato's statement about player insecurity saying that Congress’s inaction on the issue has driven millions of Americans to offshore sites where they can easily be scammed. He also defended the American citizens' right to legal online gambling, saying that poker and bingo “are as ubiquitous in the U.S. as baseball and football.”
An important issue in the debate was the gambling addiction and whether legalizing online gambling would cause more problems when it comes to underage gambling and people with gambling addiction. Keith Whyte, the executive director of National Council on Problem Gambling said that his organization is neutral in regards to online gambling legalization, but warned the committee that the online form may exacerbate addiction problems due to the speed of the games, the relative anonymity and the reliance on credit instead of cash. He also suggested that at least $50 million should be set aside to deal with gambling addiction. Whyte noted that three particular groups – minorities, young men, and veterans are the most likely to suffer from gambling addiction which may then lead to bankruptcy and criminal acts.
To this argument D’Amato replied that all means of safeguards including preventing problem gamblers and children from logging onto the websites are available and would be taken in order to protect the members of society.