Joe Barton RAWA online poker

Representative Joe Barton from Texas is pushing for online poker to be regulated at the federal level. (Image: AP Photo)

Joe Barton of Texas wants to push Jason Chaffetz of Utah out of the spotlight with his own federal online poker bill.

Mind you, online poker opponents may not be close to having their bill, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), passed into law, but it has been the centerpiece of conversation over online gambling at the federal level and it’s US Representative Chaffetz’s baby.

That means that the conversation has been all about banning online gambling rather than how best to make it work in the United States.

But at least one lawmaker wants to change that. Representative Joe Barton (R-Arlington) says that he’s planning to introduce legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker at the federal level, a move that would place his bill squarely in opposition to RAWA, which was introduced earlier this year by Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

For Barton, online poker is a no-brainer, given the fact that it has been successfully tried in so many jurisdictions already.

“It’s being done in some states. It’s being done overseas,” Barton said. “This is not a cross-your-fingers-hope-it-works kind of deal.”

Bill Would Stand in Opposition to RAWA

RAWA is known to have some powerful backers, not the least of whom is Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino tycoon who has made it a personal crusade to stop the spread of online gambling in the United States.

But Barton’s bill certainly has supporters as well, at least in spirit. Most online gambling supporters, and in particular groups like the Poker Players Alliance, would prefer legal online poker to a complete ban on Internet gambling.

In addition, casino firms like Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resort International have come out in favor of regulating online poker.

Barton’s bill would begin by setting up a regulatory framework complete with the consumer protections and safeguards that have become a standard part of any online gambling legislation. It would then give states the option of opting into allowing residents to play Internet poker.

This would keep the ultimate decision about online gambling in the hands of the states, which have traditionally held sway over what gambling is allowed locally.

States’ Rights at Issue

That states’ rights issue has been a major sticking point when talking about RAWA.

Many Republicans that oppose the bill do so on the grounds that it gives the federal government too much power to regulate what states can offer their residents, while RAWA supporters have tried to claim that the bill actually protects states by ensuring that online poker doesn’t seep across their borders.

Barton is certain which side of this argument he stands on. “Folks who think they can stand in a pulpit and tell people how to run their lives and tell states how to run their businesses don’t see the same Constitution I do,” he said.

While it’s hard to say if Barton’s bill will gain any traction at all in Congress, just the introduction of a poker bill could help present a “poker-only” solution as a viable alternative to RAWA’s complete online gambling ban. Even if RAWA were to gain enough momentum to have a serious chance to pass, it’s likely that there would be some carveouts in the bill, as divisions are already beginning to show among the bill’s supporters.

For instance, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has noted that he does not want RAWA to block states from selling online lottery products. While Adelson, Chaffetz, and others may not seem receptive to such an exception right now, more carveouts would hardly be surprising in a bill that already offers exemptions for fantasy sports, horse racing, and charitable causes.