D’Amato Likens Online Poker to Prohibition at Hearing

Former Senator Al D'Amato points to potential revenue and consumer protection when advocating for regulation of online poker.

As one of the experts brought in front of a House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade today to discuss the future of online poker in the United States, former Senator and poker advocate Alphonse D’Amato went straight to the history books to explain it.

"The problem that we have now seems to me very parallel to what we had in Prohibition," D'Amato said.

"Billions of dollars that today flow across our borders and onto offshore websites could be kept here... yielding billions of dollars in revenue for the federal government, all without having to raise taxes."

"We're well behind the rest of the world," said D'Amato. "If we do nothing, [the problems] will grow and we will have no opportunity to fix it.”

Titled “Internet Gaming: Is There a Safe Bet?”, today's hearing drew together a wide range of experts to debate the merits of two proposed online gambling bills put before Congress recently, in particular one put forth by Rep. Joe Barton, and how best to begin integrating online poker back under the legal umbrella of the US government.

The panel was chaired by Rep. Mary Bono Mack from California.

Despite differing opinions on how proper regulation should be executed, all participants agreed that gambling is currently legal in 48 states (excluding Hawaii and Utah), Americans are still currently playing online poker at offshore gambling sites despite Black Friday and that by regulating the industry significant tax revenue could stay in the country.

Government oversight could also provide critical consumer protection, added D’Amato.

“This legislation can't protect everybody at every time in every instance.

“But it can go a long way towards protecting people who have no protection at all right now. It will be imperfect, but a heck of a lot better than what we have now."

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina, testified to poker being a part of the very fabric of America, similar to baseball and football.

Rep. Barton used his introduction to the game as a child as another point in poker’s favor.

"Poker is the all-American game,” Barton told the committee.

“I learned to play poker, believe it or not, in the Boy Scouts. If you learned something in the Boy Scouts, it has to be a good thing."

By the end of the meeting, Rep. Bono Mack agreed potential jobs and tax revenues from online poker could be a great asset if gaming can be effectively regulated and negative societal costs can be minimized, but that there’s still a lot of investigating to do before a decision could be made.

"A lot of questions need to be fleshed out further," Bono Mack said.

The next step is for the expert witnesses called today to answer more questions from the committee over the next 10 days and a follow-up hearing will be held at a date to be determined.

The full list of expert witnesses and transcripts of their testimonies can be found here.

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