Organizations stage pro-poker rally

Empire Casino, London

The Poker Players Alliance and the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society joined forces in Massachusetts today to rally against the Casino Expansion Bill before a public hearing on it.

"Governor Patrick's Casino bill would make it illegal for state residents to play poker online, with penalties ranging from hefty fines to jail time of up to two years," said Professor Charles Nesson, Harvard Law professor and GPSTS founder, at the rally this morning.

"How crazy is that? Who wrote the bill's strange provision to criminalize online games? The Governor's people say it wasn't him (even though it's nominally his bill). The Las Vegas casino interests say it's not them."

Nesson has been in contact with the Massachusetts governor's office about the matter as well as with the chairman of the board of the Las Vegas Sands Corp, which is thought to have a hand in the creation of the bill, trying to get answers on who inserted the provision making it illegal to play online poker.

"I don't think filling our expensive jail cells with poker players is what Massachusetts voters had in mind when they elected Deval Patrick," Nesson said in a press release.

The rally to support poker players took place just before the 10 a.m. public hearing set for the Casino Expansion Bill before the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies.

If the bill passes, residents who play online poker would face jail terms of up to two years and a maximum fine of $25,000. Massachusetts would also be the only state to explicitly make playing online poker a crime, and the law would also apply to players in online poker games using play money.

At the hearing Joe Brennan Jr., Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association chairman, expressed his organization's opposition to the provision in the bill as well.

"It is ironic for a bill to legalize gambling in Massachusetts to outlaw and severely punish gambling online. It simply makes no sense," Brennan said.

"How can an activity that is legal in 48 of the 50 states be a criminal act simply because it utilizes the Internet? If an American has the right to choose in the 'real world,' shouldn't they enjoy that very same right when they are online?"

iMEGA believes the provision would be unconstitutional because it tramples on Americans' inalienable First Amendment rights and would exert a harsh chilling effect on Internet innovation, running the grave risk of sharply stifling the growth of electronic commerce.

"Like many of the government's forays into cyberspace, these efforts are well intended but yield the considerable practical problems of unintended consequences," Brennan said. "In this case, Americans' right to privacy and freedom of expression are imperiled by overzealous lawmaking."

According to iMEGA, safeguarding digital civil rights and the ability of all Americans to exercise their freedom with an expectation of privacy, in a safe and protected manner, is as important as it has been to protect the right to engage in the freedom of speech.

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