Poker par­ti­sans up ante with protest against In­ter­net raid

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY CLARE COURCHANE

An an­gry full house of poker play­ers de­scended on Capi­tol Hill May 24 to protest the fed­eral crack­down that abruptly closed down three of the lead­ing In­ter­net poker sites in April.

“We’re deeply con­cerned about los­ing our rights,” said for­mer New York Sen. Al­fonse D’Amato, the chair­man of the Poker Player’s Al­liance, a non­profit group that helped or­ga­nize the rally out­side the Capi­tol. “It’s about rights of what you can do in your own home on your own time.”

The protest comes just more than a month af­ter FBI agents seized three ma­jor on­line poker web­sites, Full Tilt, Pok­erS­tars and Cereus, and charged 11 ex­ec­u­tives with bank fraud, op­er­at­ing il­le­gal gam­bling busi­nesses and money laun­der­ing.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. said the crack­down was meant to put new teeth into a 2006 bill meant to reg­u­late on­line gam­bling and the es­ti­mated $6 bil­lion in­dus­try that has grown up with the on­line poker boom. The Poker Player’s Al­liance and other poker groups say on­line poker is a “right” and the gov­ern­ment should work to reg­u­late it in­stead of try­ing to pro­hibit it com­pletely.

Mr. D’Amato said the gather­ing was an at­tempt to put a face to the 10 mil­lion on­line poker play­ers in Amer­ica. He said the best course would be for Congress to not only make on­line poker legal, but also to reg­u­late it strictly.

“We be­lieve in proper rules and reg­u­la­tions, and for them to be fol­lowed,” said Mr. D’Amato.

Linda John­son, a pro­fes­sional poker player, said the gov­ern­ment move had been dis­as­trous for her both fi­nan­cially and per­son­ally.

“It’s not just a loss of a source of in­come. It’s my hobby, my pas­sion,” Ms. John­son said. “I travel over 200 days of the year, and at night in my ho­tel room I love to play on­line poker. And I of­ten play it at home. How can they pro­hibit a game you can play in your own home?”

GOP Reps. Joe Bar­ton of Texas and John Camp­bell of Cal- ifor­nia, who are cur­rently push­ing par­al­lel pieces of leg­is­la­tion to clar­ify the laws al­low­ing on­line poker, joined the pro­test­ers. Mr. Bar­ton ar­gued that poker should be legal be­cause it is a game of skill, not a game of chance.

“When we had the in­dict­ments a month or so ago, peo­ple in my district were af­fected greatly,” he said.

More than 50 pro­test­ers were in at­ten­dance, urg­ing lawmakers Congress to go all in on le­gal­iz­ing on­line poker. Daniel Alexan­der, a pro­tester from New York, showed off a sign read­ing, “Ease The Debt, Let Us Bet!”

“Poker could be an out­let for tax­a­tion. Tax and reg­u­la­tion could help ease the U.S. debt cri­sis a great deal,” Mr. Alexan­der said.

Eric Prag, the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. state di­rec­tor for PPA, agreed.

“[The goal is] reg­u­la­tion and li­cens­ing,” Mr. Prag said. “The gov­ern­ment is in dire need of funds and this could pro­vide a steady rev­enue stream. And [poker] is fun! It’s some­thing fun that the gov­ern­ment can earn money off of.”

Mr. Camp­bell said the re­cent crack­downs would merely push on­line poker un­der­ground or to for­eign-based sites.

“It’s about con­sumer pro­tec­tion. When peo­ple play on for­eign sites [. . . ] you don’t know what’s go­ing on. We need to pro­tect that con­sumer, pro­tect that player, pro­tect that per­son,” Mr. Camp­bell said.

DREW AN­GERER/THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

They don’t want to buy lot­tery tick­ets: Pro­fes­sional poker player Greg Raymer (left) chats with Rep. Joe Bar­ton, Texas Repub­li­can, be­fore a May 24 press con­fer­ence near the Capi­tol to urge the le­gal­iza­tion of on­line poker with bet­ting. Mr. Bar ton and Rep. John Camp­bell, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, are push­ing par­al­lel bills to clar­ify the laws al­low­ing on­line poker in the U.S.

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