Editorial: From the Belly of the Beast

26 October 2007

As a U.S. citizen and policy junkie, I love to lobby Congress and have done so on a variety of issues for over 30 years. In a past life as a social service administrator, it was about children's' issues, and as a "river rat" on the Mississippi, I’ve lobbied on issues related to that. But since 1997, I've often trekked to Washington, D.C., on the issue of Internet gambling regulation.

Having just finished up a whirlwind three-day jaunt to Capitol Hill, I can say that we, as an industry, have missed the boat by not doing this more over the past two or three years. Affecting change in any nation’s legislature is an arduous process, but having your issue in front of legislators (and presented by voters) and their staff (and presented by voters) is the only way it will work.

Both at the April 2006 committee meetings on the Leach bill and in this most recent lobbying effort, the pro poker players as well as amateur aficionados have stepped up to the plate. We owe the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) a debt of thanks for organizing this Fly-In. Special thanks should go to pros like Howard Lederer, Andy Bloch, Chad Brown, Barry Greenstein, Chris Moneymaker, Vanessa Rousso, Victor Ramdin, Annie Duke and Chris Ferguson, among others who participated. They’ve used both well-reasoned arguments as well as their celebrity status in public relations and political settings to further the cause of regulation.

Perhaps more importantly, the everyday folks for whom poker is a passion took off from their jobs and paid their way to Washington from all around the United States--some from as far away as Alaska--to tell the tale. There truly is a grassroots effort in place and I witnessed it firsthand the last few days in D.C. Mobilized now, hopefully they’ll be able to activate their fellow players to speak out on this issue to their elected officials. If they’re successful, we will affect change; if players remain silent, we can expect the status quo.

And we are making inroads with some representatives. While we may have heard supportive comments from a few Judiciary Committee members in the past, it was not often that legislators made a point of voicing their support. But, at a Capitol Hill reception this week, at least six of the 40 co-sponsors of the Frank bill stopped by to speak to the packed room. They voiced what many around the world thought when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed last year . . . that its passage meant a serious blow to individual Americans' senses of freedom and responsibility, and that a regulated environment was preferable to what we have now. They were heartening words and ones that I’ve waited for 12 years in this business to hear in such a public setting.

So, is there a "sea change" as PPA Executive Director John Pappas noted? Personally, I think it’s too soon to say. But from my perch in the middle of the country, I can say unequivocally that players are aware of the stunt that Congress pulled, they’re unhappy about it and we now have a channel for those voices.

Let’s not wait a year to do this again. Let’s plan another in six months and gear up for prospective changes that are likely to occur in Congress and the administration in 2008.

Times are changing and, as Americans, we need to rediscover our nerve and our voices and keep them loud and clear so that we’re prepared when the opportunity presents itself.

Mrs. Schneider is the founder of IGamingNews and former chief executive of River City Group. She now consults for Clarion Gaming and contributes regularly to IGamingNews.