A winning hand with con­ser­va­tives? Poker plays hit up CPAC

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

The poker in­dus­try played a game of chance Feb. 26 when ven­tur­ing into the back­yard of some of its harsh­est crit­ics — con­ser­va­tives — to fend off the as­sault on their “sport.”

Stress­ing that poker is a game of skill, like golf, and not chance, like roulette, slots or other forms of gam­bling, the Poker Play­ers Al­liance (PPA) set up a ta­ble at the Con­ser­va­tive Po­lit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence to lobby against lo­cal, state and fed­eral en­croach­ments on both on­line and off­line ver­sions of the card game.

“I don’t want the gov­ern­ment telling me what to do un­less I’m hurt­ing you,” said 2004 World Se­ries of Poker cham­pion Greg “Fos­sil­man” Raymer. “The only is­sue is go­ing to be pro­tect­ing chil­dren. I don’t be­lieve that adults should be pro­tected from them­selves by the gov­ern­ment; that’s what your fam­ily’s sup­posed to do.”

Mr. Raymer was greeted at CPAC by a line of ea­ger au­to­graph-seek­ers, most of whom iden­ti­fied them­selves as staunch con­ser­va­tives.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Tim Pe­abody, a stu­dent from Bryant Uni­ver­sity, said of the group’s pres­ence at the con­fer­ence.

Mr. Pe­abody said he con­sid­ers him­self a so­cial con­ser­va­tive even though he sup­ports the right of adults to play poker. “You can’t cat­e­go­rize ev­ery­body into one group,” he said.

But dis­ap­proval among some pro-fam­ily con­ser­va­tives — who have long de­cried the dan­gers of gam­bling — made the ap­pear­ance of poker ad­vo­cates, whose booth was adorned with signs in­clud­ing “Poker is not a crime,” all the more un­ex­pected.

“I en­joy a good game of poker as much as any other red­blooded male, but I think we have to start putting the im­pact on chil­dren more into th­ese kinds of de­ci­sions,” said Gary L. Bauer, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­can Val­ues and a for­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date.

“The prob­lem with on­line gam­bling is that it be­comes al­most im­pos­si­ble to make sure that chil­dren aren’t ac­cess­ing it. The av­er­age par­ent can’t mon­i­tor ev­ery sec­ond that their child is on the In­ter­net so I hope my col­leagues at CPAC will see through the ar­gu­ment that’s be­ing made by the poker ad­vo­cates,” Mr. Bauer said.

While so­cial poker games are le­gal in most states, few per­mit com­mer­cial matches. Au­thor­i­ties in sev­eral states also have cracked down on pri­vate tour­na­ments and char­ity poker events as il­le­gal gam­bling, draw­ing le­gal chal­lenges by at­tor­neys for the PPA.

Though a 2006 fed­eral law does not ex­pressly ban In­ter­net poker, it ham­pers the in­dus­try by pro­hibit­ing banks from trans­fer­ring funds to on­line gam­bling sites. The chief pro­po­nents of that law — the Un­law­ful In­ter­net Gam­bling En­force­ment Act — were con­ser­va­tives. Among them were Bill Frist, the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader at the time, and cur­rent Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Jon Kyl, Ari­zona Repub­li­can.

At CPAC, Mr. Raymer and other mem­bers of the PPA made the case for over­turn­ing that law, not­ing that high-pro­file con­ser­va­tives in­clud­ing Ge­orge Will, Wal­ter Wil­liams, Grover Norquist and for­mer House Ma­jor­ity Leader Dick Armey op­pose pro­hi­bi­tions on poker. They also stressed that poker is a game of skill, not chance — a sig­nif­i­cant le­gal dis­tinc­tion in many states.

“If they’re at the 7-Eleven sell­ing to 15-year-olds, they’ll shut you down,” said Richard Muny, the group’s Ken­tucky state di­rec­tor, ar­gu­ing that le­gal­iz­ing on­line gam­bling would pro­tect chil­dren more than ban­ning it would. “Right now money flows off­shore. That money could flow from the other na­tions to the U.S.”

Re­peal­ing the en­force­ment act could pro­duce be­tween $8.7 bil­lion and $17.6 bil­lion in rev­enue from taxes and fees, ac­cord­ing to a 2007 Price­Wa­ter­house­Coop­ers sur­vey.

Rep. Bar­ney Frank, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat and chair­man of the House Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, has spon­sored leg­is­la­tion to do so in the past and is ex­pected to in­tro­duce it again this ses­sion. Al­though Mr. Muny ac­knowl­edged that the bill faces an up­hill bat­tle, he said the group is closer than it’s ever been be­fore.

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