Poker players' official to discuss Web gaming legalization

24 June 2013
By Howard Stutz

For the past few months, Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas has been running up the frequent flyer mileage.

With federal Internet poker legalization prospects seemingly at a standstill, Pappas focused efforts of the 1.2 million-member lobbying organization on various individual state legislative activities.

Debate over Internet gaming and online poker surfaced this year in California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

Pappas is spending part of the weekend at the World Series of Poker in the organization’s booth inside the Rio’s Convention Center. He plans to discuss the various online gaming legalization efforts with the tournament’s attendees.

“We cut our lobbying spend in D.C. pretty dramatically,” Pappas said Friday. “There is no reason to spend a lot of money when the outcome is uncertain.”

But now, Internet gaming talk on Capitol Hill is once again heating up.

At least two pieces of Internet gaming legislation could be find their way to the floors of Congress before the July Fourth recess. Pappas, while hopeful there will be discussions, isn’t optimistic about the outcome.

“Congress has a lot of challenges, and having this issue rise to the top of things they tackle in the next 18 months is hard to believe,” Pappas said.

Rep. Peter King, R-NY, submitted legislation earlier this month that would legalize all forms of Internet wagering by establishing a federal licensing and regulatory system.

Meanwhile, Pappas said Rep. Joe Barton,. R-Texas, is expected to introduce online poker legislation — similar to a bill he sponsored in 2012 — by next week.

Pappas thought the King bill wouldn’t fly, primarily because it addresses gambling activities other than poker. The “permissiveness” of the bill was “excellent” from a policy perspective, he thought, but might entrench gambling expansion opponents.

Pappas, who has spent more than 14 years in Washington D.C. in both lobbying and political consulting, said a poker-only bill might be more palatable to federal lawmakers.

However, he is concerned state efforts could weaken Washington’s position on the issue.

“We favor a federal a solution,” Pappas said. “That is what the players want and that is what the (gaming) industry as a whole wants.”

Earlier this week, Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, in an opinion article on the website, advocated a federal ban of all online wagering activities. Pappas challenged many of Adelson’s points through his own commentary on the website.

“He makes certain claims as if they were fact,” Pappas wrote. “However, there is no evidence whatsoever that the introduction of an online gaming regime would negatively affect the offline casino industry.”

The Poker Players Alliance is chaired by former Republican U.S. Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York. The organization has state directors in most of the 50 states.

Nevada and New Jersey have both legalized Internet poker — New Jersey has legalized full-on Internet gaming.

Station Casinos-owned Ultimate Poker launched in Nevada on April 30, becoming the first regulated pay-to-play Internet poker website in the U.S. Other sites, including a World Series of Poker real money website, are waiting in the wings. New Jersey hopes to have its first online gaming websites operational by Thanksgiving.

Other states legalizing the activity could lessen any federal push.

“Once you get some of these bigger states, that are not viewed as a traditional gaming state, then momentum can build,” Pappas said. “There are those in Congress who are concerned about the expansion of gaming. Doing nothing, however, could lead to a bigger expansion of gaming.”

Pappas believes California and Pennsylvania could legalize Internet gaming by next year. If that happens, he said states would begin forming interstate compacts to pool players and share resources and revenues.

How the compacts would work, however, is still subject to debate.

“The real issues need to get sorted out,” Pappas said.

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