Joe Barton Internet Poker Freedom Act 2015

On the latest version of the Internet Poker Freedom Act, Texas Representative Joe Barton said the quintessentially American game should be a right for all citizens to play online. (Image: AP)

Texas Representative Joe Barton was readying a very different piece of legislation of his own for the House while Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was presenting the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) to an empty Senate on Wednesday.

The Internet Poker Freedom Act 2015 (HR 2888) is Barton’s third attempt to regulate online poker at a federal level.

Unlike Graham’s bill, which has been accused of cronyism and of being an attempt to curry favor with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, Barton says he has no vested interest in the contents of his bill. He simply likes to play poker, he says, and believes that, in the modern digital era, Americans should be able to choose if they want to play poker online for real money.

“Poker is an all-American game,” Barton said. “It’s a game that I learned as a teen and continue to play today. Just like millions of other players I enjoy the strategy and skill involved. I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online.

“My bill is needed now more than ever. It creates one federal standard that protects the integrity of the game and the financial interests of players, while protecting American consumers from nefarious and predatory overseas gambling operations.”

Previous Attempts Failed

Barton first tried to introduce online poker legislation back in 2011 with the verbosely titled “Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011.” Then, 2013 saw the first incarnation of the Internet Poker Freedom Act, which echoes the language of the new version. All of Barton’s previous attempts, however, have failed to get the necessary support in Congress.

The new act, like its predecessor, is tough on unlicensed operators, with strict penalties for those caught offering games to US players. The bill demands safeguards to screen out underage players and would direct resources to help problem gamblers.

“Players deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure,” said Barton. “The complex web of state and local regulations now being devised could leave players at risk. I believe HR 2888, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015, creates a federal standard and provides players proper protections. At the same time, it includes safeguards for children and problem gamblers.”

States Would Choose to Opt-in

HR 2888 would legalize and regulate online poker at a federal level, while allowing willing states to opt in so that operators would be licensed on a state-by-state basis. The bill would also clarify that all other forms of gambling other than Internet poker would be illegal.

The Poker Players Alliance, despite saying recently that it would not support a bill that legalized online poker but banned other forms of online gambling, welcomed the Representative’s new legislative effort.

“Congressman Barton’s bill is common sense public policy that would allow qualifying states to pool players together to create a more robust market that will drive consumer satisfaction as well as increase state revenues,” said John Pappas, executive director of the PPA. “A clear regulatory environment is in the best interest of all consumers, operators, regulators, and law enforcement.”