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Important Summer for Online Poker Fight Is Here

Poker Players Have Chance to Make Difference

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Sometime in the next couple weeks -- maybe even as early as next week -- the United States House of Representatives will vote on a bill that if passed will be the Federal government's first real effort at banning Internet gambling and online poker.

Online poker players everywhere must shake their heads whenever hearing some of the reasons that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) gives on why he's sponsoring the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act.

Goodlatte claims that Internet gambling is used to launder money, that it drains "billions" of dollars from our economy, that it destroys families and that it aids terrorists. Goodlatte has called Internet gambling a "scourge" and has consistently conjured disgraced and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's name when explaining why his bill didn't go anywhere in the past.

This time around, despite or maybe because of the popularity of online poker and other casino games, there's a good chance that the bill will be approved in the House.

"Online poker players need to know that their ability to play is seriously threatened," Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), said.

And right now, there are two things concerned poker players should do, according to Bolcerek. Players need to write or call their representatives and also become a member of the PPA.

By the end of June, the PPA will have more than 30,000 members. The goal for the end of the year is 100,000. The more people the PPA can call members, the more weight it has when lobbying lawmakers.

Since the first of the year, the PPA has been recruiting players hard and it has had some help from online poker rooms. Recently, PartyPoker.com offered a fantastic deposit bonus to players who joined the PPA through its site, and last week, FullTiltPoker.com sent out a letter to all its players letting them know what's going on with the lawmakers. It also encouraged its members to join the PPA.

"We had incredible response through that," Bolcerek said.

The PPA recently got a public relations boost when Howard Lederer joined its board of directors. Lederer promises to be more than a pretty face, and he has already joined Bolcerek, Chris Ferguson and Greg Raymer on a visit to Capital Hill to talk to lawmakers about online poker. Click here for CardPlayer.com's past article about Lederer and the PPA.

Bolcerek believes that PPA members have several things in common and they realize that their ability to play online is being threatened by lawmakers who really don't know much about online poker.

"They love the game. They love playing online poker and the government is trying to take that ability to play. It's a passion of poker that I think drives our members to get active and get behind the cause," Bolcerek said. "I receive emails from members every day asking how they could help, what they could do."

An Important Summer

In less than two weeks, the World Series of Poker kicks off. It will surely be the largest poker series ever to take place on planet Earth. Ironically, many of the players who qualified for the live main event will have done it through online poker sites, something the Federal government believes is illegal. Goodlatte's bill intends to update current laws to remove all the doubt that online poker is illegal.

In Washington State, a law just went into effect that makes it a Class C felony to play poker online. That puts online poker players in the same category as child molesters and identity thieves.

But all the headlines haven't been bad. At the end of May, Nevada Congressman Jon Porter introduced the Internet Gambling Study Commission Act, which establishes a commission to examine the impact of online gambling. Porter released this statement when he introduced his bipartisan legislation, which has 42 co-sponsors:

"With technology constantly evolving, we need a much better understanding of online gambling before Congress makes any rash decisions about its future. By establishing a bipartisan, independent Study Commission, we'll make sure we have all of the facts laid out on the table before considering any possible next steps."

Congressman Jim Gibbons, who also represents Nevada, had this to say about the Internet Gambling Study Commission Act, which he co-sponsors.

"The fact remains that, despite already being illegal, millions of Americans currently gamble online. Therefore, restricting the online gaming industry without fully reviewing the potential negative impacts would be a knee-jerk reaction. I commend Congressman Porter for his leadership on this issue and am confident that this legislation will provide a thorough evaluation of internet gaming."

Bolcerek is encouraged by this legislation. He calls it good public policy, something that other countries, like the United Kingdom, has done. Those countries treat online casinos like their land-based counterparts. They regulate them and tax them. They set aside money to treat problem gamblers and use the rest for the good of the public.

"We think the best approach to public policy is to put money toward treatment and education," Bolcerek said.

Fans of online poker should also be encouraged by the American Gaming Association's (AGA) recent policy shift concerning online gaming.

In 2003, Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., AGA President, has testified in front of Senate members that the AGA doesn't believe technology was available to regulate the integrity and security of online games. He also said that "illegal Internet gambling threatens the integrity of all businesses involved in legalized gambling in the United States."

But in May, the AGA released a report the encouraged the government to create a commission to weigh the impacts of Internet gambling. It called for the commission to take "into account a broad range of policy issues, including how best to protect children and problem gamblers and whether Internet gambling can be effectively legalized and regulated in the United States."

This shift is significant because the AGA is a powerful organization with many powerful members, including Harrah's, MGM Mirage, Wynn Resorts, Pinnacle Entertainment and Isle of Capri Casinos.

Meanwhile, the PPA is calling for people to speak out and join them. Bolcerek expects a long fight ("If it passes in the house, we'll fight them in the senate," he says). He needs all the help the poker player community can give him and he's not afraid to ask for help. If people don't step forward, it's conceivable that one day, people will start to get busted for playing online poker. After all, it has already happened in Washington State.

 
 
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