A U.S. congressman has introduced a bill that would exclude poker and other “skill games” from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was passed in October 2006 and effectively bans gambling on the World Wide Web by prohibiting financial institutions from transferring funds to and from online betting sites.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) presented his “Skill Game Protection Act” to the House in June, seeking to distinguish activities based on skill, such as poker, mahjong and chess from other “games of chance” as addressed in the UIGEA.

“There will be some people that say, ‘You know, the Internet is the venue of the 21st Century for everything,'” Wexler said in a press release. “So, the idea that we would prohibit poker and other games of skill, is not only just counterproductive, it’s antiquated.”

Internet games such as fantasy sports, horse racing and lotteries are already exempt from the law. And “gaming” websites are legal because they only offer free casino games, so players don’t run the risk of losing money when they play.

The UIGEA was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress last year as part of a port security bill, a victory for GOP lawmakers who had tried for almost a decade to pass laws prohibiting online gambling.

Wexler, who describes poker as “an American institution,” has stated that the Democratic takeover of Congress in the November 2006 election prompted him to file the legislation because it created a “more amenable environment” for his proposal.

“I thought as really a matter of personal freedom more than anything else, Congress should not be telling consenting adults in America what games they can play on the Internet,” Wexler said. “In essence, it’s the newest form of prohibition.”

Other lawmakers, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) have also introduced separate pieces of legislation to respond to the UIGEA. Frank has proposed legalizing all forms of Internet gambling with careful regulations, and taxing it.

Some sponsors of the original bill have already denounced Frank and Wexler’s efforts.

“Online poker is currently the most addictive form of gambling activity among American youth,” Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told the San Francisco Chronicle last month. “Online poker players are more likely to exhibit problem gambling symptoms than other types of gamblers, and over half of young people who gamble on the Internet displays signs of
problem gambling.”

Reports indicate that Internet gambling in the US, at its peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was a $12 billion industry.

About The Author

Elizabeth Raftery is senior editor of Blast. Follow her on Twitter.

Leave a Reply