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Regulating the internet, or just bluffing? Bill would give online poker a raw deal

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Lawmakers in Washington are gambling with your internet freedom by trying to ban online poker.

The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (H.R. 4301, S. 2159), introduced in March by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., would modify the 1961 sports betting ban aimed at the mafia and re-aim it at online gambling.

Don’t play poker? Don’t worry, the legislation before both chambers of Congress could open the door for the regulation of all commerce that takes place online, so this affects you too.

One of the bills’ most strident opponents, the Poker Players Alliance, hosted a panel at the Liberty Political Action Conference Friday in Alexandria, VA. LPAC, hosted by the Campaign for Liberty, brings together the nation’s top libertarian activists and thinkers for a multi-day conference.

John Pappas, executive director of PPA, moderated the panel, which featured Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Greg Raymer, the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event winner, and Norm Singleton, the vice president of policy for the Campaign for Liberty.

For the non-gamblers in the audience, Pappas explained why the issue should matter to everyone.

“Whether or not you are a gambler or a poker player, or have any interest in playing online, the notion that the federal government is going to step in and tell individuals and states that they can no longer offer these services in a safe environment is irrational and something that we 100 percent oppose,” Pappas said.

Three states—New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada—currently allow online gambling. Those states chose to implement a regulated system for online gambling following a 2011 Department of Justice ruling which clarified that intra-state online gambling was legal under existing federal law.

Michelle Minton has written extensively about online gambling as a policy analyst for CEI. She says the 1961 law which banned sports betting, the Interstate Wire Act, was clearly aimed at the mafia.

“In all of the congressional testimony, when they are talking about the intent of the bill, it’s very clear that the goal was to target this thing called the mafia,” Minton said.

The Department of Justice’s 2011 ruling, which paved the way for online gambling, validated this view of history and conformed to a 2005 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which said the Wire Act only applied to sports betting. But according to Minton, some Republicans in Congress saw it as another example of abuse at Pres. Obama’s DOJ.

“These two Republicans [Rep. Chaffetz and Sen. Graham] who have introduced this legislation, the way they are trying to sell it, they are saying ‘this is an example of Obama’s DOJ acting unilaterally to reverse law that Congress passed,’” Minton said. “This is a really great way to sell this effort to Republicans…but that’s not what happened.”

Professional poker player Greg Raymer explained why this legislative effort troubles him, and why even people who don’t gamble should care.

“If the government can tell me that I’m not allowed to play poker at home with my friends, and the government can tell me that I can’t play internet poker…then there’s nothing to stop the government from really prohibiting any activity for any silly reason,” he said.

Norm Singleton’s appearance as a representative of the Campaign for Liberty was significant because it marked the first time that the group officially threw its weight behind this issue. He said the House and Senate bills would set a dangerous precedent that could lead to greater regulation of the internet.

“This is a dangerous precendent,” Singleton said. “But despite the people who have lined up against internet freedom, we can defeat this.”

Minton warned the audience that this bill would establish the federal government’s authority to regulate online interstate commerce, which could empower the feds to expand internet regulations. That could mean no more sales tax-free Amazon purchases, for example.

And while it seems that the bill isn’t going anywhere at the moment because of congressional gridlock, it could be passed during the so-called ‘lame duck’ session after the election, according to PPA’s Pappas.

“We aren’t just talking in a vacuum here, we perceive there to be a real threat that these bills potentially move,” said Pappas. “They could surface during the lame duck session.”

Featured image: Shutterstock.com

Josh Kaib

Josh Kaib is the Assistant Editor of Watchdog Wire. Twitter: @joshkaib

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