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Joe Barton Expected to Introduce Federal Online Poker Bill

Remember Joe Barton? If you need a refresher course he was the Republican Representative from Texas  who was the handed the online poker baton by retiring Massachusetts Democrat Representative Barney Frank in 2011.

Since 2012 Barton has introduced several bills into the House of Representatives that would legalize online poker, but since the expansion of online gaming at the state level, Barton, and his calls for a federal online poker bill, have been all but forgotten.

However, according to an article that appeared in the Star Telegram this past weekend, Barton is back.

The article indicates Barton will soon be introducing a new version of his previous online poker legislation, in an apparent effort to present an alternative to Jason Chaffetz’s Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill that would ban online gambling at the federal level.

It’s unlikely Barton’s bill will make much noise in Congress, but it’s nice to see him still carrying the torch on this issue.

The best case scenario would be for the bill to get a committee hearing, which would allow the pro-regulation advocates to trot out some of their witnesses and experts who were unwelcome at the recent RAWA hearing held by Jason Chaffetz.

Barney Frank left a big void

Frank spent the better part of his last five years in Congress pushing online poker legislation through Congress, and used his notoriety to really push the issue forward, including in the mainstream media. While he was an outspoken critic of the several efforts to ban online gambling that took place in 2006 he was unable to stop UIGEA from passing as part of the Safe Ports Act.

From that moment on, Frank, along with Republican Congressman Ron Paul, attempted to legalize online gambling in Congress. With Frank, the Chairman of the all-important House Financial Services Committee at the helm, the idea of online poker legalization went from fringe to viable, and poker had its first Congressional champion.

To this day, Frank’s 2010 online gaming efforts (which managed to pass the House Financial Services Committee) is still the high water mark for any piece of pro-online-gaming related legislation.

While no bills were passed, Frank did manage to get full implementation of UIGEA stalled for close to four years.

When Frank announced he would be retiring from Congress at the end of his term in 2012 (Frank’s decision came after redistricting in Massachusetts that combined his district with another) his ally in the fight to legalize online poker, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), went in search of a new iGaming champion in the halls of Congress, and in the end they landed on the unlikely Joe Barton.

Joe Barton takes a different approach

Considered a staunch social conservative Barton seems an unlikely advocate for expanding gaming. However, Barton has managed to avoid any inconsistencies by separating poker (a game of skill) from gambling.

Unlike Frank, who was pushing for a comprehensive online gaming bill based on his belief adults should be free to spend their money however they desire, Barton is trying to legalize online poker.

With his sudden advocacy for a poker-only federal bill, Barton, who was previously most famous for his head scratching apology to BP executives following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010, suddenly became the new darling of the online poker community, although he never quite reached Frank status.

This is likely due to recent iGaming expansion at the state level, which made Barton’s very focused poker-only bill less appealing to the poker community.

Even the PPA has moved away from poker-only advocacy, as the need for full casino regulation (to generate enough revenue in order to appeal to lawmakers as well as potential operators) has become clear with the slow starts of online poker in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey.

Another factor working against Barton’s proposed legislation is his bill goes even further than the already very stringent and invasive regulations imposed by the states. For instance, Barton told the Star Telegram players would only be allowed to deposit via debit card, not credit card, in an effort to keep people from racking up debt gambling.

It’s a quaint idea, but one that is unlikely to do anything to prevent the issue it’s designed to solve, and will simply hamper the industry by creating yet another barrier to access.

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