Poker advocates respond to Congressional hearing

Annie Duke
Annie Duke's testimony, among others', leaves online gambling advocates feeling positive about Wednesday's hearing.

The hearing conducted by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday has drawn hopeful praise from several online gaming and poker advocates across the board.

Speakers at the hearing "On Establishing Consistent Enforcement Policies in the Context of Online Wagers" brought forward both sides of the argument.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), whose legislation last year was the formative segment of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), addressed the committee, as did the Honorable Catherine Hanaway, the U. S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, who spoke against any amendment of the current gaming laws.

Joseph Weiler from New York University School of Law and professional poker player Annie Duke were also in attendance. And Michael Colopy, a representative of Aristotle, Inc. (an online age-verification service) spoke passionately about reversing or amending the current statutes.

Not unexpectedly, several online gaming advocates have weighed in with their thoughts on how the hearings went.

"It was a very busy day," Jeffrey Sandman, the spokesman for the Safe and Secure Internet Gaming Initiative (, stated soon after the hearing wrapped up on Wednesday.

"The hearings today demonstrated that the current regulations, including the UIGEA, violate our personal rights and freedoms. We also were able to demonstrate that there were ways that we could combat the problems of underage or problem gaming, which there had been concern over."

Something that surprised Mr. Sandman was that concerns over issues such as underage gaming and the morality of gaming were still being raised during the hearings.

"I thought we had gotten by these issues," Sandman said. "During the testimony of Mr. Colopy and [Ms. Duke], though, I think we were able to show that these issues are a moot point.

"We also showed that there was some hypocrisy regarding the gaming laws and legislation that are currently in place. When you have areas of gaming that are viewed as legal, such as horse racing and lotteries, you can't say another area, such as casino games and poker, [isn't]."

With regard to the ramifications of Wednesday's hearings, Sandman could only see a more convoluted situation ahead.

"Rep. Frank's bill regarding the regulation of the online gaming industry is in the Financial Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives; there are other segments of the government, including the Treasury and the Judicial, that are attempting to find out where they are in the overall situation. Rep. Conyers' hearings were basically an attempt to look at the overall landscape of the issue. I wish I could say it would go from Committee A to Committee B and something would happen, but I think the Wednesday hearings showed there is significant interest in the online gaming question and that both sides, regardless of what they believe, aren't happy with the state of affairs as [it is] now."

In an e-mail correspondence, Edward J. Leyden, the president of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA), said about Wednesday's hearings, "iMEGA is the lead plaintiff in a digital civil rights case ongoing against the Department of Justice and the Federal Reserve in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association v. Gonzales, et al., 3:07-cv-02625-MLC-TJB).

"A positive result in this case will likely result in, among other things, recognition by a federal court of competent jurisdiction of the existence under the Constitution of fundamental privacy and associational rights to communicate and interact with others via the medium of the Internet in ways and means that mirror in every respect communication and interaction outside of the Internet.

"In other words, you don't GIVE UP your rights simply by choosing to employ the Internet - as opposed to any other medium, including in-person dialogue - to engage in otherwise Constitutionally-protected conduct, including placing a bet or calling another player on his or her hand.

"More directly for purposes of the ongoing activity on the Hill, continued enforcement of the UIGEA would likely be halted - including further action on the proposed regulations. As a consequence, genuine pressure would be brought to bear on the Congress to rectify the UIGEA, a pressure and urgency that probably would not exist absent this challenge by iMEGA in the judicial branch.

"In short, iMEGA recognizes this issue as being, ultimately, one bearing directly on the digital civil rights not only of people engaging in iGaming but, indeed, the rights of each of us who rely, value, and depend on the Internet as the indispensable engine of economic prosperity and social freedom."

The Poker Players Alliance, whose organizational Fly-In three weeks ago sparked the hearings in Rep. Conyers' committee, has also been vocal on the hearings.

In a press release, the PPA states, "One key outcome of the hearing was the acknowledgement by the Department of Justice witness, the Honorable Catherine Hanaway, that it is not illegal for an individual to place a wager on the Internet. This confirmation came during questioning from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and dispels a common misconception that an Internet poker player may be committing a crime by playing poker online."

Another myth that was undermined by testimony during the hearing was that profits from online poker rooms are directly financing terrorism.

"Congressman Howard Coble (R-N.C.) asked Ms. Hanaway if there was any evidence of Internet gaming sites laundering money for terrorist financing. She responded unequivocally that there is no evidence to that effect."

The Poker Players Alliance stated as well that it is continuing its fight and, along with the other organizations mentioned here, should have a significant impact on the future of online gaming and poker in the United States.

But there is still a long and volatile fight ahead regarding the regulation of online gaming and poker in the United States. Only through the continued vigilance of the individual poker player and the organizations that fight for their rights will we potentially see a change in the current situation.

As things stand now, it could take several more months, potentially years, of ongoing discussion before the question is settled.

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