Who's supporting your online poker freedom?

Mt. Rushmore

Today millions of Americans are firing up barbecues, digging out fishing gear, lighting up fireworks or whatever else they enjoy doing on a day off to celebrate Independence Day. However, if you're about to sit down to play a little online poker, you may want to reconsider as that's one freedom you're not allowed anymore.

Depending on who you talk to, it's illegal in the United States to partake in online gambling. It doesn't matter if it's your own money, on your own time, in your own home, the U.S. government doesn't think you should be doing it.

In 2006, the government found a way to restrict how much people play online in the United States by passing into law H.R. 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Instead of directly outlawing the practice of online gambling by U.S. residents, it instead attacks it from a financial angle, saying that transactions from banks to online gambling sites are prohibited.

For a nation that prides itself on freedom and independence, it sure seems like outlawing online gambling is a direct contradiction to those principles.

So what's being done to rectify the situation? Who is standing up to sound the voice of poker players everywhere, to say the government has no right to trample on what should be a personal right?

There are plenty of poker players' rights groups out there now, but it was Representative Barney Frank who took the first step in the government to make a change.

He's been very vocal about how "stupid" he thinks the UIGEA is and what the United States should do instead.

He introduced H.R. 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007, in April of this year, which could officially legalize online gambling and provide for the regulation and taxation of the industry in the United States.

The day Frank introduced the bill in the House, he had 11 cosponsors already signed on to the bill. The number has since grown to 26.

Initial 11 sponsors:

  • Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.)
  • Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.)
  • Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)
  • Julia Carson (D-Ind.)
  • William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.)
  • Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.)
  • Steve Israel (D-N.Y.)
  • Peter King (R-N.Y.)
  • Ron Paul (R-Texas)
  • Melvin Watt (D-N.C.)
  • Robert Wexler (D-Fla.)

Additional Sponsors:

  • Howard Berman (D-Calif.)
  • Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.)
  • Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.)
  • Bob Filner (D-Calif.)
  • Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.)
  • Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.)
  • Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.)
  • Jim McDermott (D-Wash.)
  • James McGovern (D-Mass.)
  • Charlie Melancon (D-La.)
  • Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.)
  • Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas)
  • Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.)
  • Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.)
  • Don Young (R-Alaska)

Some of these supporters are interesting just based on their own states' records regarding gambling. Rep. McDermott from Washington where online gambling is specifically illegal, for instance. Plus three of the initial supporters are from New York, and now that the number of cosponsors has grown to 26, seven total are Representatives from that state.

It's in New York where the State Attorney General has taken the hardest line against online gambling transactions - as a result Citibank discontinued any transactions with online poker or casino sites, and NETeller is currently working with the authorities to work out its legal issues because of online gambling transactions, and the company's founders are facing prosecution in the state.

Rep. Clay along with Rep. Russ Carnahan, the latest person to sign on to the bill, are both representing constituents in Missouri, which also happens to be the state where David Carruthers and other persons affiliated with BetonSports are being prosecuted for fraud and racketeering charges in connection with online gambling.

Perhaps seeing tax dollars frittered away to bring companies and people in those companies to justice for providing a service that any mature, independent adult should be able to take part in if they choose, finally got to them.

Or perhaps the constituents in those states also spoke up and expressed their outrage at having something as simple as the freedom to choose to play poker online taken away from them. That's what it's going to take to affect real change in the online gambling laws of this nation - the people.

Government representatives like Barney Frank can only do so much. He can put out the legislation that will make the change, but he still has to get a majority of the 435 members of the House of Representatives to agree to it.

If you don't see your Congressman's name on the list, maybe it's time to contact them and find out how they stand on the issue, and let them know where you stand. If you don't know who that person would be, you can find out at the House Web site.

The saying may be a bit worn at the edges, but it's true that freedom isn't free. As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, this is a government "of the people, by the people, for the people," and the only way to keep it that way and preserve your own rights - the very rights we celebrate today - is to be an active part of the process.

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