Online poker: Where do the candidates stand?

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Ever since the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, the fate of online poker in America has been up in the air.

Technically it's still not illegal under federal law to play poker online in the United States, though some states (most notably Washington) do have laws against it. The UIGEA only made payment transfers to gambling sites illegal.

Many poker players would like nothing more than a law that answers the question of the legality of online play with a resounding "yes." In this election year, it's natural to wonder whether the current candidates for the presidency might make such a law a reality.

I recently delved into the remaining candidates to see if any of them might be online poker's savior. It should be noted that none of the candidates' campaigns responded to requests for an interview with PokerListings.com.

The Democrats

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
Sen. Hillary Clinton

Sen. Clinton's campaign Web site has a section entitled "Issues," detailing the candidate's stances on a wide variety of topics of concern for American voters. It's not possible to glean from any of the material what the senator's take is on online poker, or whether she even has one.

While in Nevada for that state's early caucuses, however, Clinton did come out in favor of a government study of whether online gambling in general could be taxed and regulated within the United States.

This is the same position held by the American Gaming Association. Clinton did not make any distinction between poker and gambling in general when expressing her support for a study, so it is unclear whether she would favor poker above other forms of gaming.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama

On Sen. Obama's campaign Web site, the search function for the "answer center" with frequently asked questions and the campaign's response to each turned up no results for the terms "poker" or "gambling."

Much like his rival Clinton, Obama came out in favor of a study of online gambling while campaigning in Nevada. His support was more reserved than Clinton's, however. The Las Vegas Sun reported that Obama has reservations because he considers the Internet a "Wild West of illegal activity."

Reports of Obama's enjoyment of poker games with his fellow state legislators while serving as a senator in Illinois have surfaced over the last year, suggesting that he doesn't have a problem with the game. (Positively Fifth Street author James McManus profiled Obama's poker past in the Feb. 4, 2008 New Yorker.)

However, Obama was also known to occasionally oppose gambling bills during his time in the Illinois Senate.

The Republicans

Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee
Mike Huckabee

Huckabee's Web site doesn't return any results when searching for the words "gambling" or "poker." The "Issues" section of the Web site also doesn't mention anything about online poker or gambling.

Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, was the only presidential candidate to respond to a National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling questionnaire released last year. In it, he promised to veto any legislation passed by Congress legalizing online gambling in any form.

John McCain

John McCain
Sen. John McCain

Sen. McCain's Web site doesn't return any results for the search terms "gambling" and "poker." The "Issues" section of the Web site is similarly devoid of mentions of online poker or gambling.

The Los Angeles Times published a story in its June 10, 2007, issue regarding presidential candidates and the Nevada gaming industry. One of the facts noted in the article was that Terrence Lanni, chairman and CEO of MGM Mirage, is the co-chairman of McCain's national fundraising team.

MGM Mirage is a member of the AGA, the organization pushing for a federal study on the regulation of online gambling.

Ron Paul

Congressman Ron Paul
Rep. Ron Paul

The only result in a search of Rep. Paul's campaign Web site for the words "gambling" and "poker" is a personal endorsement from professional poker player Derick "Tex" Barch.

Barch, most famous for making the 2005 WSOP Main Event final table, never mentions poker or gambling, but instead bases his support on Paul's dedication to Constitutional ideals.

While his campaign Web site might not detail a stance on online poker, Paul has supported the plight of online poker players in the past.

Last October, he attended a conference called by the Poker Players Alliance and expressed his support for repealing the UIGEA. He expressed support for Rep. Barney Frank's bill to legalize and regulate online poker.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

The Romney campaign Web site returned no search results for the terms "gambling" and "poker," and the "Issues" section of the site doesn't mention online poker or gambling.

As has been widely reported, Romney is a Mormon. Though the candidate himself has made no statements during the campaign regarding online gambling, the Mormon Church is opposed to gambling in all forms.

In 2003, while serving as governor of Massachusetts, Romney did support legalizing limited forms of gambling in the state as a method of raising government revenues to pay for social programs. IssueSource.org, a non-partisan public policy think tank in Massachusetts, reports that Romney's aides proposed a plan to auction five-year licenses for slot machine parlors to protect education and health programs from state budget cutbacks.

The Money

The U.S. Federal Election Commission requires candidates for federal office to disclose where their campaign money originates. That information is disseminated through several channels, including OpenSecrets.org, a Web site funded and operated by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington D.C.

According to OpenSecrets.org, FEC statistics released on October 29, 2007, reveal that former New York City mayor (and now ex-presidential candidate) Rudolph Giuliani received the most money from gambling concerns through the third quarter, a total of $177,850.

Of the candidates still in the race, McCain has received the most money from the casino and gambling industry - a total of $103,500. Clinton received $60,125 in donations from the industry, followed by Obama ($24,500), Romney ($14,100) and Paul ($3,308). Huckabee received no contributions from the gambling industry.

These figures include money from industry Political Action Committees and donations of more than $200 from individuals employed by the casino industry.

Conclusion

Judging by the dearth of statements on the subject, the issue of whether online poker should be taxed and regulated within the United States is simply not on the agenda for most presidential candidates. The faltering economy, the war in Iraq, immigration and other issues are taking precedence.

Trying to judge what candidates might do based on contributions to their campaigns is akin to reading tea leaves or tarot cards to determine one's future - or maybe even less indicative than that. Scrutinizing their past positions on issues is somewhat more reliable, especially in the case of those candidates who have opposed gambling at some point, but still ventures into the realm of educated guesswork.

Probably the most reliable method of judging what a candidate will do is reading what the candidate has said he or she will do as president. Unfortunately for concerned poker players, candidate statements on the issue of legalizing online poker in the United States are few and far between.

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