Members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, during a hearing on the Internet poker industry on Tuesday morning, expressed their concern regarding the ability of a regulatory agency to provide player protections and keep underage players from gaining access to online poker sites.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) was the most vehement critic of the plan to regulate Internet poker.
"The idea of online gambling, legal or illegal, gives me great concern," said Harper. During his second round of questioning, he cited a witness who testified to a Congressional committee in 2007 that accurate player identification was not possible. He asked the panelists in attendance if that was not still the case.
"It's changing radically and very quickly," said Parry Aftab, representing the group FairPlayUSA, which was formed earlier this year and is advocating federal regulation of Internet poker. "You can't verify kids, but you can verify adults."
Most of the lawmakers in attendance, however, appeared to be leaning towards supporting the plan, assuming sites were able to provide protections for problem gamblers, prevent underage players from accessing sites and make sure players were not able to cheat by using software against other players.
Part of the reason for that qualified support may be due to the status quo. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), the sponsor of H.R. 2366 (the Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection
, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011), displayed a printout of a $50 deposit to Bodog (later revealed to have been made by the John Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Player Alliance), and asked the panel of experts assembled if anyone believed that there weren't millions of Americans now playing online poker. None of the panelists raised their hands.
Former Senator Alfonse D'Amato, now chairman of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), said that the current situation reminded him of Prohibition.
"We're well behind the rest of the world," said D'Amato. "If we do nothing, [the problems] will grow and we will have no opportunity to fix it. This legislation can't protect everybody at every time in every instance. But it can go a long way towards protecting people who have no protection at all right now. It will be imperfect, but a heck of a lot better than what we have now."
The American Gaming Association, which has gone from opposing legal online gambling to being neutral on online gambling to being supportive of federal regulation of online poker in just five years, pointed to Europe as an example of how the industry can be regulated effectively.
"Testimony heard today and other testimony presented in writing, such as ours, demonstrates that new technology and processes used in ecommerce have been successfully adapted in jurisdictions where Internet gambling is legal, such as Great Britain, France, Italy and provinces in Canada, to keep minors from betting online and prevent illegal activities, such as money laundering and fraud," said AGA president Frank Fahrenkopf in a statement after the hearing.
"With so many issues before Congress, we are encouraged that ensuring player protections for online poker was raised for consideration by this committee," D'Amato said in a statement after the hearing. "Clearly Congress is hearing the voices of the thousands of poker players across the country who have expressed their frustration at the government’s actions to restrict their personal freedom to play this great game."