US Poker Players Descend on DC

24 October 2007

More than 100 poker players and advocates attended the first Poker Players Alliance (PPA) "Fly-In" in Washington, D.C., this week, including professionals Chris Moneymaker, Vanessa Rousso, Victor Ramdin and Howard Lederer.

PPA Chairman Alphonse D’Amato rallied the troops saying that while progress is slow, proponents shouldn’t be discouraged because opponents see what’s coming and poker fans’ persistence will pay off. During the opening remarks, PPA Executive Director John Pappas said that there was a sea change brewing in Washington with the tide moving toward a regulated industry. At least one player couldn’t attend but had a message for Congress.

Attendees then fanned out for meetings on Capitol Hill to thank the 39 co-sponsors of Barney Frank's, D-Mass., bill as well as the 19 co-sponsors of Florida Democrat Robert Wexler’s skill games bill. There were also meetings with those members of Congress to be convinced to sign on. Many of the pros were also scheduled for a variety of press engagements, including Chris Ferguson’s appearance on Fox News, with Howard Lederer taking on a Family Research Council representative on

At an evening reception on Capitol Hill, a steady stream of Congressmen came into welcome the proponents. These included John Conyers, D-Mich., Wexler, Shelley Berkeley, D-Nev., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Bobby Scott, D-Va.

Berkley called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) "outrageous," arguing that its existence constitutes an infringement of freedoms--that it "tries to tell Americans what they can do in the privacy of their homes." The fiery Jackson Lee said that Congressmen were "problem solvers" who were there to ensure that the industry was there for Americans who could make decisions on their own. And Scott said that the PPA could count on their support in the battles on Capitol Hill.

At a policy forum on Wednesday, the panel included pro player Lederer, libertarian Radley Balko, attorney Ken Adams and a duo from Harvard, law professor Charles Nesson and law student Andrew Woods, who have together formed the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society. Collectively, they offered a lively debate for the packed room on the UIGEA, its effects and how it could be corrected.

Balko, who is a senior editor of Reason Magazine and a columnist for Fox News, was quick to point out that the UIGEA did put a small dent in the market and was on its way to creating a black or gray market, but said the legislation "won’t stamp it out" as supporters had hoped. He also felt that the bill sets a dangerous precedent in the United States by deputizing banks to monitor the personal recreational habits of citizens as well as having financial institutions define what constitutes illegal activities.

Lederer, who is clearly taking a lead role among the increasing activist pro players, characterized the bill as vaguely written. "It tiptoes around the fact that we are a nation of gamblers who should have their privacy respected as well as their ability to make adult choices," he said.

A hot topic on the panel, in congressional meetings and in the corridors was the implications of the World Trade Organization (WTO) case. What some have dismissed in the past as "meaningless," the WTO case has clearly become a force in the equation. No longer are the arguments about Internet gambling just about domestic (but valid) concerns such as underage and compulsive gambling; now, the talk is shifting to the implications with U.S. trade partners such as Japan, China and Brazil, as well as actions like the copyright sanctions being sought by Antigua and Barbuda.

However, according to Adams, the key to changing minds on this issue continues to be constituent response. Adams argued that until poker players tell elected officials that they’re voting them out due to this issue and remind them again after they lose an election, little progress will be made.

Discussion of last week's Absolute Poker development also bubbled to the forefront during the forum. Annie Duke and Vanessa Rousso, both professional players, offered to the audience that online gaming was uniquely suited to provide the controls that are necessary to keep the play fair since every hand is electronically recorded. "The hand histories which are public domain are protected online and refunds can be made to players," Duke said. "That can’t happen in a card room. But if it’s regulated in the United States, the players are truly protected."

With the increased media attention and personal meetings on the Hill, this effort by the PPA apparently did achieve their goal of heightening awareness on the issue.

In other Washington news, a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the UIGEA is being scheduled for early November.

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.