Casi­nos sup­port le­gal­ized online poker

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

The na­tion’s largest casino trade group is go­ing all in to le­gal­ize online poker, call­ing Sept. 20 for a pro­posed reg­u­la­tory frame­work even as the Jus­tice Depart­ment con­tin­ued its crack­down on off­shore gam­bling web­sites.

Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Gam­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, which un­til now has op­posed the le­gal­iza­tion of online poker, said in a state­ment that “there are no longer any good rea­sons to put U.S. cit­i­zens at risk by con­tin­u­ing to out­law online poker in the U.S.”

He called on Congress to ap­prove the group’s pro­posed online poker code of con­duct, which in­cludes con­duct­ing back­ground checks for web­site op­er­a­tors, iden­ti­fy­ing all U.S. play­ers in or­der to keep out teenagers and other il­le­gal gam­blers and im­ple­ment­ing pro­ce­dures to stop money laun­der­ing.

Hours later, the Jus­tice Depart­ment filed a mo­tion ac­cus­ing ex­ec­u­tives at Full Tilt Poker, in­clud­ing celebrity play­ers Howard Led­erer and Christo­pher Ferguson, of de­fraud­ing cus­tomers of more than $300 mil­lion while they “lined their own pock­ets.”

“Full Tilt was not a le­git­i­mate poker com­pany, but a global Ponzi scheme,” Preet Bharara, U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York, said in a state­ment.

The bil­lion-dol­lar world of online poker was rocked April 15 when the Jus­tice Depart­ment shut down gam­bling on three of the largest off­shore web­sites: Full Tilt Poker, Pok­er­Stars and Ab­so­lute Poker. Pros­e­cu­tors charged the com­pa­nies with bank fraud, money laun­der­ing and il­le­gal gam­bling.

The 2006 Un­law­ful In­ter­net Gam­bling En­force­ment Act bans online poker web­sites, although in­di­vid­u­als are not pro­hib­ited from gam­bling online. In­dus­try in­sid­ers say that while the fed­eral in­dict­ments may have closed down a few web­sites op­er­at­ing il­le­gally in the United States, oth­ers have since sprung up to take their place.

The re­sult has been an in­ten­si­fied ef­fort to take online poker out of the shad­ows by le­gal­iz­ing it. Repub­li­cans have in the past rep­re­sented the big­gest ob­sta­cle to online gam­bling, but two House bills in­tro­duced this year to reg­u­late the in­dus­try are spon­sored by Repub­li­cans, Reps. Joe Bar­ton of Texas and John Camp­bell of Cal­i­for­nia.

Mr. Fahrenkopf said he is hop­ing to work with Congress to de- velop a third bill based on the AGA’s pro­posed code of con­duct. “I think there’s in­ter­est,” Mr. Fahrenkopf told The Washington Times.

At least one Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, former New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son, has come out in sup­port of le­gal­ized online poker, say­ing on his web­site, “The fed­eral govern­ment should not be in­volved in re­strict­ing law­ful com­merce that doesn’t harm any­one.”

The move­ment also has won the sup­port of some top names in fed­eral law en­force­ment. Former FBI Di­rec­tor J. Louis Freeh and former Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Tom Ridge drew head­lines Sept. 15 when they joined the ad­vi­sory board of FairPlayUSA, a newly formed ad­vo­cacy group push­ing for a reg­u­la­tory frame­work for online poker.

Crit­ics of the online gam­bling pro­hi­bi­tion de­scribe the cur­rent at­mos­phere as “the wild, wild West,” an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by shady off­shore com­pa­nies with no le­gal obli­ga­tion to their U.S. clien­tele.

“Cur­rent laws that at­tempt to pro­hibit In­ter­net gam­bling have failed to stop the il­le­gal In­ter­net gam­bling mar­ket from grow­ing to $6 bil­lion in the United States, ex­pos­ing mi­nors to In­ter­net gam­bling sites of all kinds and leav­ing con­sumers at risk,” Mr. Freeh

At least one Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, former New Mex­ico Gov. Gary John­son, has come out in sup­port of le­gal­ized online poker, say­ing on his web­site, “The fed­eral govern­ment should not be in­volved in re­strict­ing law­ful com­merce that doesn’t harm any­one.” The move­ment also has won the sup­port of some top names in fed­eral law en­force­ment. Former FBI Di­rec­tor J. Louis Freeh and former Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Tom Ridge drew head­lines Sept. 15 when they joined the ad­vi­sory board of FairPlayUSA, a newly formed ad­vo­cacy group push­ing for a reg­u­la­tory frame­work for online poker.

said in a state­ment ex­plain­ing his de­ci­sion to join FairPlayUSA.

The mo­tion ex­pand­ing the scope of the in­dict­ment against Full Tilt Poker could be viewed as a red flag on the dan­gers of al­low­ing online poker to oper­ate openly. But Mr. Fahrenkopf dis­agreed, say­ing, “There’s no bet­ter ex­am­ple of why we should be li­censed here in the U.S.

“As you can see from what the Jus­tice Depart­ment did this morn­ing, there’s no pro­tec­tion for con­sumers what­so­ever,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said.

Pok­er­Stars has is­sued a state­ment on its web­site ex­plain­ing to play­ers how to cash out their ac­counts, but Full Tilt Poker has been crit­i­cized for fail­ing to re­fund its play­ers’ bal­ances af­ter the Jus­tice Depart­ment crack­down. Pok­er­Stars also is of­fer­ing U.S. play­ers the op­tion of gam­bling for “play money” on its web­site.

John Pap­pas, pres­i­dent of the Poker Play­ers Al­liance, called on the Jus­tice Depart­ment to en­sure that any set­tle­ment re­sult­ing from the crack­down is “first ded­i­cated to re­im­burs­ing play­ers.” He also re­newed a re­quest for Full Tilt Poker ex­ec­u­tives to “en­sure the prompt pay­ment of play­ers as their first pri­or­ity.”

Crit­ics of ex­panded gam­bling worry that le­gal­iz­ing online poker will in­crease gam­bling ad­dic­tion and its fall­out, such as di­vorces, bankrupt­cies and sui­cides.

“Peo­ple may not un­der­stand how highly ad­dic­tive it is, when you’re alone in your home,” said Jerry Pros­a­pio, co-founder of Gam­bling Ex­posed and a self­con­fessed gam­bling ad­dict who quit 28 years ago. “Online gam­bling is just an­other way you’re go­ing to cre­ate more ad­dic­tion, and then you’re go­ing to see more crime. It’s just no good for Amer­ica.”

But online poker sup­port­ers say there never has been a bet­ter time to le­gal­ize the in­dus­try, given the job mar­ket and the po­ten­tial for adding a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try to the flag­ging econ­omy.

“We’re talk­ing about jobs, tax rev­enue,” Mr. Fahrenkopf said. “It’s sort of a no-brainer.”

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