Barton Bill on Online Poker Legislation is Praised and Criticized

online poker USAWith the unveiling of the Barton Bill, HR 2366 The Online Poker Act of 2011, many advocates of online gambling are asking the basic question, “Is it enough?”.  The good news is that it does legalize online poker in the United States. But that’s it. No other forms of online gambling are addressed. There is an irony to the bill since technically online poker is not illegal but funding accounts using US financial institutions is.

Influence of PPA

Of course, this makes sense when you consider that the active, public lobby for the legalization of online poker has been the poker players of the U.S. through the high profile organization the Poker Players Association (PPA). They have testified publically, met with lawmakers and sent out email after email to members and supporters. The group has taken out ads and been about as proactive as a group can be. Barton attended their most recent rally in Washington, D.C. The group has had a major influence.

Additionally, and this is important, the PPA has been careful to distance themselves from other forms of online gambling. First, they have not lobbied for online casinos, horseracing or sportsbooks. Part of this has to do with their focus, but the other part has to do in the manner that they have carefully kept online poker as an activity separate from other forms of gaming.

The primary manner in which the group has distanced itself from other types of gambling has been by consistently stating that poker, unlike casino games, is not a game of chance. Roulette, Keno, slots and other types of casino games are entirely chance or luck based, while poker involves skill and the player has the ability to influence the outcome of a hand and a game.

The PPA talking points are clear on this. When discussing an organizational White Paper they state, “The Alliance works to protect the legal rights of poker players and advocates rational gaming laws at the state and federal level. In this White Paper, the Alliance describes the role that skill plays in determining the outcome of a game of poker, and offers an overview of the scientific studies that address that question.

With that the PPA clearly takes its stand on the game of poker and then refines its focus by looking at one game, as it states, “This paper devotes particular attention to Texas Hold’em, the most popular poker game and the one to which the most study has been devoted.

Logic of the PPA

What the PPA did was clearly define what sets poker players apart from folks who tend to be seen as just sort of mindlessly spending their money—those who play games of chance. The alliance and others know that games such as Roulette, Craps and slots cannot be played with a true strategy due to the fact that in order for a strategy to be used there must be a way for it to influence the outcome of the game.

But nothing a player does can change whether or not the Roulette ball will land on a given number, or if they’ll roll craps or if they’ll hit the progressive jackpot on a slot machine. All of these outcomes are dictated by Random Number Generators (RNG), which arbitrarily offer a result when the wheel stops spinning, the dice come to a rest or the reels finally line up. Whether a player wins or loses in these games has nothing to do with any kind of tactic since one turn is a separate entity from all others and there’s no way to influence the game.

The PPA did it’s job by setting up shop online, creating lucid talking points, using scientific studies and getting some of the best minds in the game involved. That may be where they were best at proving their point—poker players, the really good ones, tend to be very smart and possess a facility for language, math and complex ways of thinking. These names became the faces of the PPA.

Limits of HR 2366

With all of that in mind how good is the bill? Some won’t like it but the PPA does.

In a recent letter on their website focusing on Barton’s bill, the organization “applauded” his online poker legislation, noting, “The legislation addresses many of the concerns raised in previous Congressional hearings, specifically narrowing the focus to only Internet poker, mandating technologies to protect consumers from fraud and limiting underage access, preserving state’s rights, and ensuring Indian Tribes have the same rights to apply for a license as other entities.

What some people don’t like are the things that the PPA acknowledges as being good, such as:

  1. The exclusive focus on poker
  2. Protecting people from fraud
  3. State and Tribal rights

The limitation of the bill to poker manages to keep the casinos and poker rooms separate. Which, by the way, is the way they are set up in land-based casinos and on the Internet. No one puts poker and slots in the same room in a Vegas casino and online gambling rooms that offer both poker and casino games always have them, at the very least, under separate tabs. Making the legislation poker specific makes sense.

Some are unhappy with the fact that the bill prohibits the use of credit cards for online poker. That one way the bill protects “people from fraud.” And although it may be seen as being impractical, it’s fairly clear that services such as eWallets and vouchers are just as fast and much safer in protecting the user’s financial information.

The third point, the protection of “State and Tribal rights” is certainly important for various reasons. First, it allows the government to track play and taxes. Only casinos and horse tracks in the U.S. will be allowed to apply for licenses in the first two years. That makes it easy for the state governments to control and monitor the sites. Additionally, that means if you hoped to get back to PokerStars, Full Tilt or other poker sites, you’re out of luck. At least for the for two years after the legislation is in place.

Looking to the Future

But the effect of the legislation may end up opening up the market for professional players as they sign contracts within the U.S. to be part of the new online poker industry.  The U.S. is a huge poker market and you can imagine that casinos, tracks and the poker industry will be highly inventive in setting up poker rooms that are extremely competitive.

Also, PlayTech’s recent contract with Scientific Games to create Sciplay and to serve the California Online Poker Association (COPA), which includes 29 tribal Native American governments and entities and 31 card clubs, including what is one of the most biggest poker rooms in the world—Commerce Casino in LA, with online poker software looks to be fairly brilliant. PlayTech and Scientific Games are in the right place at the right time to corner 60% of the U.S. online market.

If you’re a poker player the good news is that online poker should be a reality and an easy to access one, fairly soon. That is as soon as the bill winds it’s way through both houses of congress and is signed by the president. The ETA on that is unknown as this point.