July 22, 2009
Just beyond the elegant glass doors of the Palazzo Suite, a representative of the Poker Player Alliance stood at attention eyeing the arriving crowd for possible crashers. United States Representative Barney Frank was scheduled to hold forth at a fundraising reception for heavy hitters down the hall.
As Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Frank is one of the country’s most visible lawmakers. He is also widely regarded as online poker’s best friend. PPA members of suitable pedigree and/or cash were invited to rub shoulders with him.
A Newsworthy Party
A grassroots organization that includes online and offline poker players from all walks of life, the PPA organized a fundraising reception as part of Chairman Frank’s visit to the 2009 World Series of Poker and the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. I had previously interviewed the Congressman and had met him at other gatherings. I found him to be a straight shooter.
As a PPA member and a supporter of Mr. Frank’s stance on civil liberties, I have opened up my checkbook to him and said, “Count me in.” I attended the fundraiser for Mr. Frank as a guest; I left inspired to write about the link he has made between online poker and politics. I concluded he was the WSOP Nation’s most compelling newsmaker of the day.
In October 2006, President Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) into law. In 2007, Mr. Frank introduced a bill that would effectively undo UIGEA, but it never made its way out of Committee. In late 2008, regulations to implement UIGEA were promulgated; compliance was set for December 2009.
Following the 2008 presidential election, Mr. Frank became Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. He continues to champion legislation that highlights civil liberties. And in keeping with his commitment to attack governmental interference that suppresses Constitutional rights he continues to embrace the rights of adults to play poker online.
New Plan of Attack
Mr. Frank is the author of two bills of special interest to online poker enthusiasts: H.R.2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2009 that would effectively turn the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 on its head (except with regard to sports bets), and H.R.2266, the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act, which would delay industry compliance with UIGEA regulations that are currently set to become effective at the end of this year.
Politician’s Dance Card
The Chairman’s full day WSOP visit was a whirlwind of activity. The crowd in the Palazzo Suites was presumably his last stop and reflected a strong showing of pros associated with Full Tilt Poker and Poker Stars. Sources close to the PPA say these two companies are the movers and shakers behind the PPA’s various lobbying efforts and their players are key supporters of Mr. Frank’s current online poker-related bills.
Earlier in the day, Congressman Frank visited the WSOP’s Amazon Room. Introduced by WSOP President and Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack, the Harvard-educated lawmaker gave a short pep talk to the day’s main event players on the politics of online poker. He ended his remarks with the “Shuffle up and deal,” command that starts each WSOP tournament.
Moving on to a scheduled press conference, Frank drew only a small group of reporters, presumably because a more hyped press event was about to take place. 1989 WSOP Champion and eleven-time bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth’s anticipated grand entrance to the Main Event’s Caesar was expected during the same time slot.
Frank described his two bills that would interest online poker players. The more publicized bill, H.R.2267, calls for licensing, taxing, and regulating online gambling operations. The other bill is H.R.2266, which delays enforcement of UIGEA regulations. Of the two bills, Mr. Frank expressed more confidence in near-term passage for H.R.2266.
Throughout his visit, Frank exhorted online poker players to become activists for their cause. He urged them to vote and to support elected representatives who are on the right side of the online gambling debates. He was blunt in insisting that poker players must do the work to move these bills forward. He hammered the point, declaring he will not stump for passage of H.R.2667 all by himself.
Frank Hits His Stride
Sporting a short-sleeved shirt outside his trousers, Chairman Frank orated, pontificated, cajoled, and pressed poker players to get involved in preserving their civil liberties, using online poker as a platform for his mantra.
At the late afternoon fundraiser the New Jersey born Congressman, who has long called Massachusetts home, drew immediate applause with his pronouncement of UIGEA as both “stupid and wrong.” The staunch civil libertarian espoused the importance of preserving basic freedoms.
Mr. Frank then shifted gears, clarifying that he has no current intention of supporting the PPA’s desire for a ‘poker carve-out’ in his current bill. He didn’t do so in his last bill, either. He spoke of his solid commitment to tie online poker and casino games together in his quest to undo the constraints of UIGEA.
Disappointed with his stance, one agitated player began to opine on poker as a game of skill and suggested it might be easier to get a bill passed that focused only on poker. Barney Frank’s face turned beet red. The Chairman pounced on the opportunity to challenge his critic, suggesting that he rethink his values and support the goals of a sincere civil libertarian while virtually dismissing the argument of poker as a game of skill. The Chairman declared that no one he knows cares about online gambling legislation that distinguishes poker from casino table games.
Taking the rhetoric down a notch, Mr. Frank suggested that it made sense, at least for the moment, to relax dogged pursuit of special treatment for online poker, in favor of a ‘poker plus’ strategy that would respond as positively to the civil liberties issue that affects online gamblers in table games, as well.
Charging up the hill once more, Chairman Frank pushed the PPA to send a veritable army of voters to call, write, and visit their representatives in search of support for the H.R.2267. He returned to his central theme of the day online poker enthusiasts will help the bill to succeed only by joining his fight to protect civil liberties under attack by UIGEA.
Reminding everyone of the urgent economic issues that occupy the preponderance of his time, Mr. Frank also warned that he is not going to chase after his colleagues to get this bill rolling. It will be up to the players to lead the way in marshalling support.
The Bottom Line
Before leaving his audience, the sober talking Chairman put out some good news. Barney Frank reassured his supporters that he is truly on their side, ready to pay serious attention to H.R. 2267. He even offered up a timetable to move forward with Committee hearings, hopefully in the early fall. And his eyes twinkled again as he expressed hopes for passage of his bill in the not too distant future.
In the interim, Mr. Frank has his eye on H.R. 2266 which delays compliance with the UIGEA regulations for at least another year. He reminds his listeners that passage of H.R.2266 will protect online gamblers from a tightened noose while long term legislative solutions can be locked into place.
His tough-love message notwithstanding, Barney Frank departed the Palazzo Suites as online poker’s most powerful friend. Chairman Frank apparently felt no special need to prod the industry to wax poetic about the economic benefits to the government of H.R.2267’s provisions to license, tax and regulate online gambling. It was the civil liberties issue he was intent on driving home.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated and may be a part of material Wendeen Eolis uses in an updated publication of Power Poker Dame.
Ms. Eolis is the CEO of Eolis International Group, a legal/government affairs consultancy that recommended special counsel to a federal government agency reviewing midnight regulations of late last year, UIGEA among them. EOLIS has since authored a related report in conjunction with advice the law firm is providing to the Obama Administration. Ms. Eolis was the first woman to cash in the final event of the World Series of Poker She had her 7th cash at the 2009 WSOP.