President George W. Bush signed the SAFE Port Act into law today which includes the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) preventing banks and other financial institutions from allowing people to use funds to pay for online gambling.
As Bush sat down to sign the bill this morning he talked about the SAFE Port Act and how it will strengthen homeland security, however he made no mention of the unrelated UIGEA section of the bill.
The UIGEA was added to the SAFE Port Act by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R - Tenn.) as Congress was trying to finalize the legislation before breaking for the campaign season. The amended version doesn't criminalize the act of online gambling, but instead prohibits people from using their U.S. financial institutions and other banking tools such as credit cards, checks, or funds transfers to deposit or withdraw money at Internet gambling sites.
Essentially, by signing the bill into law, Bush has made it illegal for online gambling companies to accept money from U.S. financial institutions. The Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury have a 270-day period to create regulations and procedures for U.S. financial institutions to follow in identifying and blocking transactions related to unlawful Internet gambling.
"Today is a dark day for the great American game of poker," said Michael Bolcerek, Poker Players Alliance (PPA) president. "Twenty-three million Americans who play the game online will effectively be denied the ability to enjoy this popular form of entertainment, even in the privacy of their own homes."
The bill does contain exemptions for certain kinds of online wagers including horse race betting, state lotteries, and fantasy sports. The PPA hopes that poker may eventually be given similar exemptions as a game of skill rather than chance.
"Internet poker is a great source of enjoyment and allows me to compete on an equal playing field with people from around the world," said Ethan Ruby, an amateur poker player who was paralyzed in a traffic accident five years ago. "I can't understand how President Bush would take this game away from me and millions of other Americans."
Bolcerek said that by choosing prohibition instead of legalizing online gambling, the country is possibly making the industry less safe than if they'd chosen to license and regulate it, and the nation is losing out on billions of dollars in tax revenue.
The members of the Republican Party in both the House and the Senate had made online gambling an important issue this year - a decision many believe was prompted by the need for more conservative votes during the election year. To get the bill passed before the election, Frist managed to get it attached to the SAFE Port Act which was considered "must-pass" legislation.
"As a lifelong poker player, I can't believe the underhanded way this new bill restricting online poker was passed through Congress," said Doyle Brunson, professional poker player. "What does Internet poker have to do with the Safe Port Bill? We Texans don't like this kind of trickery. Texas is a state where you can see an enemy coming, a friend is a friend, and you look someone straight in the eyes."