One of the champions of personal freedom on Capitol Hill is Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA, pictured), who has served as the primary voice of the movement to legalize and regulate internet gambling in the United States. Given the magnitude of the events of Black Friday on April 15th in which the founders of three of the world’s largest online poker sites were indicted on charges that included illegal internet gambling and bank fraud, we thought it would be fitting to bring Frank on the PocketFives.com Podcast for the third time to field listener questions about what poker players can expect going forward.
As you might have discerned by now, Frank was outraged at the events of Black Friday, which saw the U.S. Department of Justice indict 11 people with ties to PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and their payment processors.
Frank began his appearance by arguing, “The question of whether or not adults should be allowed, with their own money, to engage in an activity that they enjoy and that harms absolutely no one, and only engages other people who are engaging in it voluntarily, is such an easy question that it’s frustrating we should even have to answer it.”
Frank added that it vexes him that lawmakers still support the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which was pushed into law in the final seconds of the 2006 Congress: “For my conservative Republican friends, I am really shocked that some of them still oppose this… It’s an interference of personal liberty, it imposes incredibly excessive regulations on the banks, and it violates the freedom of the internet. It violates, it seems to me, just about every principle we have.”
PocketFives.com has heard our membership say that the U.S. online poker crackdown could ultimately help expedite legislation to bring the industry completely above board in the USA. On that question, Frank conjectured, “I think it helps us… I would think the fact that it’s now being enforced would help us to say, ‘Hey, this is not some abstract issue now.'” So far, PokerStars is the only affected site to offer players the opportunity to cash out.
What should concerned online poker players and defenders of personal liberty do? “Write to your Representative and two Senators and then tell your friends to do the same thing,” Frank advised. “Tell them that this is an intolerable intrusion on my freedom, a waste of government resources, and I insist you be supportive of the legislation that will repeal this.”
The Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has set up a special Take Action page that resulted in 65,000 e-mails and letters being sent to lawmakers within a week of Black Friday. You can visit the PPA’s website and e-mail your Representative and two Senators. While you’re there, voice your displeasure on the Department of Justice’s Facebook page.
Americans aren’t the only ones upset. In the wake of the online poker indictments and website seizures, the nation of Antigua has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization. Frank spoke about the impending sanctions: “It’s another inconsistency from some of my conservative friends who are insistent that we abide by the World Trade Organization… They can’t turn it on and off like a water faucet… I think the fact that we are in violation of the WTO will be helpful in terms of getting this changed.”
Beginning earlier this year, the House Financial Services Committee, which has been Ground Zero for pro-internet gambling legislation from Frank, moved to Republican control under Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL, pictured). Bachus, who once made up a study saying that one-third of all collegiate online poker players have attempted suicide, has been steadfast in his support of the UIGEA.
On Bachus, Frank told the PocketFives.com Podcast, “He takes this very personally, and I think his personal view that gambling is a terrible thing can be admirable. What’s not admirable is to impose that personal view on other people… Congressman John Campbell (R-CA) and I think we have a very serious chance… If enough people write to their Representatives and Senators, we’ll get this thing done.”
Campbell and Frank have introduced HR 1174, which would create a full licensing and regulatory framework for the internet gambling industry in the United States.
Other members of the community have expressed their shock that the Barack Obama (pictured) Justice Department would crack down on online poker players to this degree. Obama, a self-proclaimed poker player, was widely assumed to be friendlier to the industry, but that has not proven to be the case.
Frank reminisced, “I was surprised and disappointed. I am generally supportive of the President, but this is an area where he has disappointed me. I don’t know if he knew they were going to be doing this… It is a terrible waste of resources, and you don’t have to enforce every law.”
Finally, we asked Frank about a draft bill legalizing online poker proposed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV, pictured) late last year. Frank, who called Reid’s efforts “encouraging,” explained, “When I started this, we had a lot of opposition from the casinos, and obviously you’re not going to get something through the Senate with a Majority Leader representing Nevada because the casinos hate it. I think what happened is the casino operators finally understood it’s just not in their interest to participate in a movement that says gambling is a terrible thing.”
Check out the rest of this week’s edition of the PocketFives.com Poker Podcast featuring House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Barney Frank.