Shuffle Up And Repeal (The Ban On Online Poker)

June 29, 2011, Posted by Pokerfarm

Shuffle Up And Repeal (The Ban On Online Poker)

The name Joseph "Joe" Barton is probably one you don't recognise. He's not not the latest hyper-aggressive PLO upstart crushing the nosebleeds. He hasn't luck-boxed his way to an upset WSOP victory. He probably doesn't check for value, or triple range merge, or level his opponents with depolarized positional meta-game. He's probably, at a stretch, played a few thousand hands of poker, lifetime. But he could be about to revolutionize the face of online gambling - in the US, at least.

In fact, Joe Barton is a Republican congressman for Texas. The head of the Poker Players’ Alliance has called him “one of the most skilled poker players in Congress” (a little like saying “one of the most reasonable of Phil Hellmuth’s tantrums” or “one of the most Oscar-worthy of Jennifer Tilly’s film performances”.) On Friday, he sponsored a bill to effectively legalize the provision of online poker in the United States.

In the wake of the Department of Justice indictment of Pokerstars, Full Tilt and Cereus, speculation has been rife over a possible move to a US-sanctioned and regulated model, and Barton's bill could well be the first step.

The proposed law contains many of the provisions that one would expect. It makes it explicitly illegal to run an unregulated online poker room in the US. It would ban underage players and the use of credit cards for deposits. It would set up "Office of Internet Poker Oversight" (a name that wouldn’t sound out of place in a spam e-mail from Nigeria.)

Some aspects of the bill are more controversial, but not unexpected. Barton clearly wants internet poker to be controlled by US companies. For the first two years, the only entities that would be allowed to apply for licenses would be existing casinos and other brick-and-mortar gambling houses. After that period, applications might be open to all who meet the criteria of background checks and suitability. Or, they might not. It’s left for regulators to decide.

If this bill passes in anything like its current form, online poker in the US will be dominated by existing casinos to the extent that, even if other companies are allowed to compete after the initial two-year period, they will find it very hard gain traction against the entrenched market leaders. The bill also dashes any hopes of Stars and FTP re-entering the US in the future by instructing licensing agencies to take into account whether applicants have ever run a card room that allowed US players to play while it was unregulated.

While it would be insulting to the community at large to suggest that professional poker players ever conduct themselves with anything but the highest standards of moral rectitude and legal deference, some US grinders might be disappointed to learn the bill would require card rooms to report or collect applicable taxes. It's not clear how this would work for players from other countries.

In recognition of Barton’s contribution to the poker world, he is set to make the “shuffle up and deal” announcement at the WSOP on Saturday. We can rest assured that, as one of the most skilled poker players in Congress, he’s no-doubt used to high-pressure situations, so he should be able to handle this important responsibility.


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