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PPA Pushes for Poker Players' Rights During Events
on Capitol Hill
By Aaron Todd
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) hasn't gone all-in, but it has
raised the stakes.
The alliance, which boasts 20,000 paying members, was represented by
its president, Michael Bolcerek, and three prominent professionals on
Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Poker professionals Chris "Jesus" Ferguson,
Howard Lederer, and Greg "Fossilman" Raymer came to Washington
attempting to bring a poker face into the online gambling legislative
debate before the Wednesday afternoon House Judiciary Committee hearing
on H.R. 4777, a bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
The bill would amend the Wire Act, which pertains to interstate
wagering. Another online gambling bill (H.R. 4411), which would limit a
person's ability to fund an online gaming account, was proposed by Jim
Leach (R-Iowa) and has already been approved in the House Financial
The group had a one-hour press conference at the Cannon House Office
Building on Tuesday morning, visited injured soldiers at Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in the afternoon, and had a two-hour reception in
the Longworth House Office Building cafeteria in the evening, giving
legislators, media and staffers the opportunity to meet the players,
discuss the legislation, snap some pictures and get some autographs.
"There's never been a debate about poker and whether poker should
even be part of this legislation because of its status, at least in our
minds, as a game of skill," said Lederer. "I don't want Washington or
America waking up with a hangover the day after this thing gets passed
where Washington (says) 'What did we do?' and 70 million people in the
country (say) 'What? They took away my poker?' I just think it's time
that poker be part of the debate here."
A new survey conducted by ICR market research shows that most
Americans agree. Ninety percent of 964 adults surveyed do not believe
the federal government should prevent Americans from playing poker,
while 74.2 percent do not believe that the government should prevent
Americans from playing poker on the Internet.
Bob Hoy, a 52-year old network engineer from Sterling, Va., who as a
member of the PPA, was invited to the reception on Tuesday night,
personifies the argument the PPA is putting forward.
While he has played poker since he was 10 years old, he says he
became a student of the game about seven years ago, avidly reading books
and studying strategy. He started playing online five years ago and
currently holds accounts in eight or nine online poker rooms. When asked
how he would react if the legislation passed, Hoy had to think long and
hard before he responded.
"I would have to make a serious decision, because I may have to break
the law at that point if I felt that (the law) was unjustified," said
Hoy. "I'm a conservative republican and I'm aghast right now at some of
the congressmen that are supporting this bill that I think should know
better. I don't think they understand the difference between poker and
some forms of gambling."
The difference, according to the players and the PPA, is that poker
is a game of skill. While there is some chance involved, the most
skilled players continue to finish at the top of the biggest tournaments
in the world.
"People make incredibly intelligent decisions under incredible
amounts of pressure," Ferguson said. "The skill really comes across on
TV. It's hard for me to imagine that people don't see it as a game of
skill. Yes, there is chance involved, but I think that you have to agree
that there is a lot of skill."
While the players object to the legislation at least in part because
they don't believe that poker fits the traditional mold of gambling,
others oppose it on purely ethical grounds. Radley Balko, a policy
analyst with the CATO Institute, disapproves of the intrusive nature of
"What the Leach Bill tries to do is force your bank or credit card
company to identify (companies which allow deposits into online gaming
accounts such as Neteller and FirePay) and prohibit you from doing
business with them," Balko said. "And these companies serve a lot of
purposes other than just placing bets online. It effectively deputizes
private financial institutions to start monitoring its customers'
behavior. I think we need to step back a little bit and ask ourselves if
deputizing private institution is something we want to start doing. From
a business standpoint and from a customer standpoint that should make
It certainly makes Hoy uncomfortable. An amateur player who has built
up a $35,000 bankroll over several years, Hoy shares poker with his
family, playing with his wife and teaching his 15-year old daughter to
play. The couple plans to move to Las Vegas upon retirement to play more
"I don't like to see someone legislating my morality," Hoy said.
More information on the PPA is available on the organization's Web
www.pokerplayersalliance.org . The site includes information on how
to join and how to write you congressman and your senators about this
|Abramoff gets payback in
|A handful of gambling lobbyists have
already called it Jack Abramoff’s payback. Others are less direct.
But the central irony remains: The same Internet gambling
legislation Abramoff fought so hard to defeat on behalf of a
client that helped states conduct lotteries over the Internet now
includes an exemption to protect those lotteries.
Now Abramoff’s infamy and legal woes are driving anti-gambling
legislation across Capitol Hill, even though one of the most
prominent bills includes language that would protect his former
Two House bills, introduced separately by Reps. Bob Goodlatte
(R-Va.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa), seek to reinforce existing
anti-gambling rules by respectively updating telecommunications
and financial-services laws to give enforcement agents more power
to prosecute gamblers who place bets on websites based outside the
A previous version of Goodlatte’s bill was defeated on the
suspension calendar in July 2000 after a last-minute push by
Abramoff and his team to spread misinformation about the bill on
behalf of his client at the time, eLottery, a Connecticut-based
Abramoff is now out of the picture, but gambling interests
remain powerful on Capitol Hill and the current crop of
anti-gambling legislation reflects that sway. Versions of this
legislation have passed the House twice and the Senate twice, but
never in the same year. Both chambers now appear intent on
bringing bills to the floor this year.
The Goodlatte and Leach bills, along with legislation
introduced in previous years by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), attempt to
crack down on the estimated $12 billion annual overseas gambling
business, but none of those bills would regulate some closely
related industries, in an attempt to avoid potential roadblocks.
In addition to the lottery exemption in Goodlatte’s bill, both
pieces of legislation include language to protect fantasy sports
from current anti-gambling laws, and the two bills also avoid a
decades-long dispute between Congress and the Justice Department
over the legality of interstate pari-mutuel betting on horse
“The underlying principle of this legislation is not to change
the legality but to change the enforcement mechanisms,” said
Martin Gold, a lobbyist with Covington & Burling who represents
the National Football League, an ardent supporter of anti-gambling
legislation. “It doesn’t make anything illegal that was legal, and
it doesn’t make anything that was legal illegal.”
Goodlatte is staunchly opposed to gambling and first introduced a
bill to improve the federal enforcement mechanisms for Internet
gambling in 1997.
In June 2000, Abramoff and his team defeated the Goodlatte bill
after a companion had already passed the Senate and his
legislation appeared on its way to swift passage, according to a
story in The Washington Post last fall.
Abramoff reportedly convinced a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay
(R-Texas) to help get the bill on the suspension calendar, which
would increase the number of votes necessary to approve it, and
directed funds to various religious groups to help him pressure
conservative members to oppose the bill on the grounds that it
would actually expand Internet gambling — a false charge,
The bill eventually fell short by 25 votes.
“It’s now clear to a great many members of Congress that they
were hoodwinked by Mr. Abramoff,” Goodlatte said. “He effectively
killed it in [the] Judiciary [Committee] by getting some
In the intervening years, Goodlatte added language giving
states the right to conduct lotteries over the Internet. The
change was part of an ongoing effort by the lawmaker and his staff
to craft the legislation around a specific task: to update the
1961 Wire Act to prohibit anyone from placing bets over the
Internet so that the 45-year-old law would apply to current
Goodlatte reintroduced the bill in February of this year, and
the legislation now has 130 co-sponsors. The Judiciary Committee
is expected to address it in the coming months.
“It is a bill we intend to consider,” committee spokesman Jeff
In addition to updating the Wire Act, Goodlatte’s bill also gives
Treasury officials more oversight of financial institutions to
track illegal bets. This latter provision is the entire thrust of
Leach’s bill, which parallels legislation Kyl is expected to
introduce in the Senate sometime this year.
The Leach and Kyl bills would require the Departments of the
Treasury and Justice to establish “policies and procedures
reasonably designed to identify and prevent restricted
transactions” relative to Internet gambling. That would include
monitoring of credit cards, electronic fund transfers and any
checks or bank withdrawals.
Leach said his initial version of the legislation avoided any
mention of horse racing, but the current version has a clause
explicitly exempting any bet that adheres to the Interstate
Passed in 1978, the Interstate Horseracing Act governs all
interstate betting on horses. The law creates a specific carve-out
in the Wire Act to protect state-to-state betting on horse races
provided it is legal in both the state where the bet is cast and
the state where the race is run and provided all wagers are placed
with a regulated pari-mutuel service.
Despite those protections, federal law-enforcement officials
have argued that the law does not pertain to online betting.
In December 2000, despite strong protests from the Justice
Department, Congress amended the Interstate Horseracing Act to
include wagers placed “via telephone or other electronic media”
provided both the sender and the receiver are licensed pari-mutuel
Initially unaware of this dispute, Leach said, he was told
early in the process to leave horse racing out of his legislation
because it was a separate issue governed by previously established
“It wasn’t in the initial bill,” Leach said of the horse racing
exemption. The congressman said he wanted to limit his own
legislation to betting that is already illegal under current law,
adding, “Don’t ever underestimate the power of the gambling
Goodlatte said he did not explicitly address the horse racing
issue for the same reasons. “We don’t address it, nor do we try to
repeal it,” he said.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), which is
both the trade association and governance body for breeders,
owners and racing officials in the United States, sent out a
release March 15 announcing that the organization “has secured
language … to protect Internet and account wagering on horse
racing” after Leach’s bill passed through the House Financial
Services Committee earlier this month.
The same release said that NTRA officials had worked with
Goodlatte to “ensure that [his bill] also contained language that
protects online and account pari-mutuel wagering.”
The organization’s political action committee had already
contributed $79,000 to members of Congress this cycle as of Jan.
23 of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Neither Goodlatte nor Leach was a direct recipient of those funds,
but Goodlatte’s PAC, the Good Fund, did receive a $5,000 donation
In addition, Federal Election Commission records show that Kyl
refunded a $5,000 donation from the group late last year,
according to politicalmoneyline.com. His office did not return
repeated phone calls for comment.
Almost 15 million people participate in fantasy sports leagues
annually, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA),
which represents most of the online fantasy sport providers like
CBS SportsLine and ESPN.com.
The average player participates in six separate leagues in two
different sports each year, according to a recently completed
survey by Prof. Kim Beason of the University of Mississippi.
Participants are overwhelmingly male and spend an average of
$493.60 on league fees every year.
The professional sports leagues, particularly the NFL and Major
League Baseball, draw some revenue from fantasy sports
participants, but much of that is tied up as part of larger
broadcast or marketing deals.
The leagues now appear to be repositioning themselves after a
recent boom in fantasy sports participation.
In 2005, big-league baseball paid its players union $50 million
for the fantasy rights to its players for five years. Last year,
St. Louis-based CBC Distribution and Marketing, Inc. sued the
league for requiring companies to secure a license to operate
fantasy baseball leagues online, arguing that statistics are part
of the public record. That suit is pending.
In addition, the NFL has a deal with CBS SportsLine to operate
its website, but the fantasy rights are up next month and the NFL
can now renegotiate its deal.
Fantasy sports are protected in each piece of Internet gambling
legislation because the results are an aggregation of individual
statistics in multiple games over an entire season; therefore,
backers argue, winning and losing is contingent on skill in
picking players and the financial rewards are almost always
determined before the season.
The results of fantasy sports contests are nearly impossible to
influence because the standings are determined by too many players
over too many games for outsiders to influence those results, a
number of lobbyists said on background.
Goodlatte said it is unfair to criticize the entire bill on the
basis of the single exemptions.
“It all goes back to Abramoff,” Goodlatte said. “We were never
trying to expand gambling. Clearly, it would contract Internet
gambling. … [The legislation is] tighter now that it has ever
Web payment firm NETeller doubles 2005 profit
Tue Mar 28, 2006 1:30 PM GMT
LONDON (Reuters) - Online money transfer firm NETeller Plc (NLR.L:
Research) more than doubled its 2005 profit as customer numbers rose
86 percent, it said on Tuesday, predicting more growth this year.
The Isle of Man-based company said it also added 8 percent, or
180,000, new customers since the start of the year.
NETeller, which has grown fast alongside the rapid rise in online
gambling, said pre-tax profit for the year to December 31 rose to $97.8
million (55.9 million pounds) from $45.8 million in 2004.
It said customer sign-ups rose to 2.35 million at end-2005 from 1.25
million the year before, helping lift earnings per share to 76 cents
from 37 cents in 2004.
NETeller said online gaming, which accounted for more than 80 percent
of money transfers last year, was still growing strongly as it predicted
further "impressive" growth for 2006, particularly in Asia.
NETeller Chief Executive Ron Martin told Reuters his firm was not
overly concerned about the uncertain regulatory outlook for online
gaming in the United States, where it gets much of its business.
"The U.S. market is important to us, but our growth in Asia and
Europe has been twice the rate (of) the American market. As for
regulatory, concerns ... like many market pundits, we feel the
legislation is unlikely to go anywhere this year," he said.
Earlier this month, U.S. legislators approved a bill attempting to
stop online gaming firms from accepting credit cards, checks, wire
transfers and electronic funds transfers in illegal gambling
transactions, a move that could spell trouble for firms like NETeller.
Unlawful gambling, under the legislation, would include placing bets
on online poker sites, and any other wager made or received in a place
where such a bet is illegal under federal or state law.
The company said that in any case it was diversifying into other
areas after last year paying 12.4 million pounds ($21.7 million) buying
Cambridge, England-based full service payment provider Netbanx.
It also moved to expand its geographical reach into Asia with the
acquisition last year of debit card processor Quick Access, which is
based in Macau.
NETeller was floated at 200p a share last year.
By 10:52 a.m., its shares were 3 percent down at 712p on what traders
said was profit-taking after a good run. "They've had a very good rise,"
This valued the business at around 856 million pounds.
NETeller also on Tuesday said that Gord Herman would succeed Steve
Lawrence as chairman around the time of its annual shareholder meeting,
provisionally pencilled in for June.
Regulate, don't outlaw, online gambling-Posted
on Thu, Mar. 23, 2006
People who never bet on sports make an exception this time of year.
Something about the NCAA basketball tournament — maybe it's the appeal
of filling out those brackets and tracking their progress each day —
brings out the gambler in all of us. But if some members of Congress get
their way, we won't be able to place any of those bets online.
The proposed Internet Gambling Protection Act would prohibit using
the Internet to operate a gaming business. But trying to shut down a
multibillion-dollar industry with consumer demand that includes an
estimated 8 million Americans annually is an empty legislative effort.
Instead of outlawing it, Congress should regulate it.
Online gambling is now a $12 billion-a-year industry. Americans anted
up more than $500 million to bet on this year's Super Bowl online, an
increase of more than 12 percent from last year and more than five times
the amount wagered through Nevada casinos. Overall, Americans wagered
nearly $6 billion online in 2005, compared with about $1.5 billion in
Outdated law. The U.S. government says the consumers who
placed these bets are in violation of the Wire Act, which was originally
aimed at organized crime and sought to prevent gambling businesses from
operating by phone in states where it was otherwise illegal to gamble.
This law shouldn't be applied to Internet betting. No case law or
statute clearly defines where Internet bets are taking place.
BetOnSports, for example, is based in Costa Rica. Our customers can
place bets from anywhere that has an Internet connection. In part
because of this ambiguity, no one has been prosecuted for online betting
under the law.
Enforcing this outdated law or passing new legislation would be
foolish at best and a violation of privacy and individual freedom at
worst. Politicians who seek to prohibit online wagering in order to
prevent underage gambling, excessive gambling and corruption could
address these goals more effectively through regulation.
It may surprise our critics to know that we in the online gambling
business share their concerns about gambling abuse. In fact, we have
been seeking support from governments to devise systematic ways to
protect vulnerable populations. What this industry needs is regulation,
not to be pushed even further into the shadows, where organized crime
and less reputable people can carve out a niche for themselves.
Regulation can address a number of important concerns about online
• First, we can better prevent underage gambling. Most online
gambling companies already try to prevent underage gambling. We don't
advertise to anyone younger than 18, for example, and we have clear
rules on our sites. Regulation could make these practices more
enforceable and extend their reach. New technologies can provide
regulators with better information, including the ability to provide an
audit trail for each transaction or to block participation by certain
players or classes of players.
• Second, we can better deter compulsive gambling. Currently,
companies use software to help their customers keep track of their
betting histories. We can also use this software to impose cooling-off
periods. With regulation, these practices could become standard in the
• Third, regulators can ensure transparency and good corporate
governance, as they do in most regulated industries.
British model. The good news is that Britain provides a model
for the United States. Its Gambling Act, passed last spring, provides
for the licensing and regulation of online gambling, including the
establishment of a national gambling commission to protect consumers,
restrict the access of minors and prevent money laundering and other
It is time for the U.S. government to face the facts: The issue is
not whether it is possible to stop online gambling; the issue is how to
regulate a business that not only exists but is growing. We have begun
the process by working to create an independent advisory council to
establish operating standards acceptable to everyone. Not only would
regulation strengthen companies that wish to operate responsibly, but
legalizing our companies could bring in billions of dollars in tax
revenue. That' s one gamble that would generate benefits for all
Carruthers is chief executive of BetOnSports, an online wagering