Harry Reid Internet Poker Bill Stalls in Congress


Sorry, online poker players. A bill introduced by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that would have established a licensing and regulatory framework for online poker, has died in the final days of Congress. Rumors swirled that the bill could have been added to a tax relief measure currently being debated in Congress. However, when that didn’t come to fruition, the prospects of legalized online poker become quite slim. On Thursday, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), the main lobbying group for poker players in the United States, declared the bill dead.

As to why online poker was not attached to the tax relief bill, PPA Executive Director John Pappas told Poker News Daily on Thursday, “When the tax package fell through and things became much more political for it – not related to our bill – it became clear that another controversial addition to the tax bill could sink it.” U.S. President Barack Obama struck a deal with Congressional Republicans on the tax bill’s contents, severely limiting the leverage Reid had to add language legalizing online poker.

Many in the industry critiqued Reid’s bill, which pandered to two of his major campaign contributors, Caesars Entertainment (formerly Harrah’s Entertainment) and MGM Resorts International. A blog that appeared in the Atlantic City Weekly on Thursday asserted that Nevada would have been the primary beneficiary of online poker regulation: “[Reid’s] bill would have allowed only established casino companies to offer online poker. While Atlantic City certainly has established casinos, the city’s biggest player, Caesars Entertainment – owner of Harrah’s Resort, Caesars, Showboat, and Bally’s – appears to want to make Nevada its internet base.”

Not necessarily believing that the bill was completely dead was PPA Board Member Patrick “Skallagrim” Fleming, who posted in a thread on TwoPlusTwo, “The body looks pretty lifeless at the moment; but don’t bury the body until the lame duck session officially ends. Reid is just too much of a snake to conclude anything else.” The lame duck session was scheduled to end on Friday, according to The Hill, but other news outlets report that it could run well into the holiday season.

Reid’s measure included language creating a 15-month blackout period during which no online poker company could solicit business legally. Then, existing casinos would be able to apply for licenses. On PocketFives.com, longtime member “Jennifear” gave her take on the 15-month gap: “I’m rooting for this bill to fail. 15 months without a viable place to go play poker for a living is not acceptable. 39 months for our major sites is not acceptable. It would kill my ability to be a professional player. Unfortunately, the status quo, as bad as it is, is probably better than the result of this bill passing.”

What we’ll see in 2011 is anyone’s guess. What’s certain is that the House of Representatives will transfer to Republican control. In the House Financial Services Committee, which has been the birthplace of several pro-internet gambling bills this Congressional session, the Chair will likely switch from Barney Frank (D-MA) to staunch adversary Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Bachus has been opposed to the expansion of internet gambling from the get-go on moral grounds and received an “F” in the PPA’s Congressional Ratings Guide.

Pappas has said that the Senate will remain a focus for the PPA going forward, as online poker may have cemented its biggest ally in Reid. Pappas also noted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee would also be targeted since the prospects of pushing legislation through the Financial Services Committee appear to be bleak.

Stay tuned to MacPoker.com for the latest from Capitol Hill.


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