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Best of Vin Narayanan

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D'Amato, Wexler bring UIGEA fight to Vegas

10 July 2007

Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) brought their fight to repeal the UIGEA and legalize Internet poker to the World Series of Poker Monday.

D'Amato, chairman and chief lobbyist for the PPA, urged poker players before the start of play to write their Senators and Congressman and ask them to repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

"Why should Americans not be able to play poker online when they can bet on the ponies online?" D'Amato asked the cheering crowd before he kicked off Day 1D play by yelling "Shuffle up and deal'em."

Later that afternoon, the large field of competitors paused to hear Wexler talk about returning online poker to American players.

"A few months ago, the government made a big mistake," Wexler said, referring to the passage of Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. "They butted into the lives of Americans told them they couldn't play poker."

"Poker is as much our pastime as baseball," Wexler told the audience. "It's a game of skill," Wexler said as the crowd cheered. Then he urged the players to write their representatives and support his proposed legislation allows Americans to gamble on skill games, including poker.

The crowd roared its approval, and Wexler and D'Amato continued their tour of the WSOP floor.

D'Amato and Wexler also made time to sit down with Casino City today to discuss repealing the UIGEA and creating a skill game UIGEA exception for poker.

AD: I'm fighting for the disenfranchised poker player. They've lost the right to play on the Internet. They should have the right to play on the Internet the same way Americans have the rights to bet on the ponies on the Internet. They've disenfranchised us. They've disenfranchised the poor poker player. That's why I've joined this crusade. They've made us second class citizens. They've made us thieves. That's the implication (of the UIGEA). We're a country of fairness.

VN: What did you think of the WSOP floor?

It's quite something. But imagine how much greater and more spectacular it would be if you had players playing on the Internet. What a competition that would be. That's the kind of thing that this can eventually be. But the legislation that was surreptitiously attached to the Safe Ports Act, the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act prevents that. It's one of the most hypocritical pieces of legislation ever passed and it was done in a duplicitous way. It says you're engaged in a criminal act if you're playing poker, but it's okay to bet on horses, or lotteries, which is every bit the gambling – if not more than poker.

(At this point, PPA president Michael Bolcerek interjects and reminds D'Amato that the UIGEA just makes financial transactions illegal, not poker playing.)

AD: Let's not be lawyers about this. It deprives you of the opportunity to play poker. It makes you deal with criminals. Anyone engaging in the wire transfers is guilty of criminal conduct. Essentially, they're banning you from playing poker. They're saying you can't do in you home what you can do by walking down the street to a casino.

VN: What about underage gambling?

AD: If you want to stop youngsters from gambling, why don't you ban horse racing? At least under the legislation proposed by (Barney) Frank, who's been heroic, and Wexler, they (online casinos) will have to use all kinds of sophisticated programs to prevent underage people from playing on the Internet. The technology works. And we will show Congress it works. All this sanctimonious business about how we don't want our kids to gamble on the Internet; I thought that fell on the mamma and poppa. I didn't know big-brother government should step in. I'm going to be 70, why should I be precluded from gambling online.

VN: What type of pressure does the WTO ruling against the U.S. bring?

AD: Now we're looking down the barrel of powerful cannon that's going to blow our trade to smithereens as a result of the EU, Australia, and others bringing the same action (as Antigua) against the U.S. It will result in billions of dollars in penalties. And some of the biggest companies will be hurt when their IP is infringed upon. (Antigua and Barbuda is threatening to lift copyright protections.) Whether it's the entertainment industry -- Time Warner, Disney –- or Microsoft, and a number of other leading technologies, the damage will be real.

VN: The EU says they want access to new markets rather than money for compensation in the WTO case. Doesn't that lessen the pressure the U.S. might feel?

AD: It's going to be billions of dollars we lose if that happens. Carried to its logical conclusion, it will be a colossal trade war. I can see a scenario that some that will want the sugar quotas lifted. And others will want another market opened. It will turn into a huge battle. And we're wrong. We shouldn't be involved in this battle.

VN: Many industry experts have called for study on online gaming. They claim it's the only way to get data that Congress can use to pass a future law regulating online gaming. Yet you're pushing directly for a repeal or skill game exception. Why?

AD: You're hearing that from certain segments of industry. And those segments are anxious to protect their businesses. You're not going to stop the Internet and its utilization for all kinds of economic and commercial activities. The same companies (that want a study) will be pushing for repeal soon. Some are already. Others will move in that direction. And you can study this until the cows come home. But it's not going to change.

VN: How are you going to get the votes needed to pass any legislation?

AD: We're going to pick up the votes -- I'm just not sure we're going to pick up the votes before the WTO violation of law on our part. The WTO ruling plus a million members (editor's note: the PPA currently has almost 600,000 members) gives us critical mass. But members have to call Congress and write into them. And not just a form letter. The have to tell them what they think and feel. And the educational process we're engaged in before the mark up for the Frank bill to show (Congress) that programs keep youngsters on the Internet away from poker will help.

VN: I know you love to play poker Senator. How come you're not playing in the Main Event?

AD: I didn't enter the World Series because if I did, I would obviously make the final table, and that would take a week. Unfortunately, I have some things to do back in New York, so I couldn't enter.

Congressman Wexler's turn

VN: Why go for a skill gaming exception rather than an outright appeal of UIGEA?

RW: Barney (Frank) wants to undo the whole law. I went after poker and games of skill because that's the best argument that Americans understand. 'Why can't you play in your kitchen and not online?' Poker is a game of skill where there's no house. You play against other people who want to play you. I would also favor an outright appeal as well.

VN: You're obviously passionate about the issue. Why?

RW: People are passionate about games of skill, like poker, and Congress has no business dictating the venues in which they're played.

People have been playing (poker) on the kitchen table, in the house, and in the halls of Congress for centuries. The idea to ban it on the Internet is illogical. Add on (legal) betting on horse racing and lotteries online, and there's no legitimate case for not letting people bet on poker online. We'll prevent underage gambling with the technology. And money laundering too.

VN: What kind of impact has the WTO ruling against the U.S. had?

RW:Other nations are bringing the U.S task. And an amended schedule has enormous financial implications as well. But we shouldn't be violating the WTO. We can't expect China, India and Europe to respect the WTO if we don't.

VN: Have you heard from the Microsoft's and Disney's of the world asking about Antigua and Barbuda's threat to suspend copyright protections?

RW: We haven't yet, but we will. And rightfully so. The prohibition of online poker and games of skill are just registering with people. They're just learning what the ramifications will be. And that will affect all sorts of elements of our economy.

VN: Any final thoughts?

RW: Prohibition didn't work when we tried to outlaw alcohol. And it's not going to work if we try to outlaw poker. It's going to result in poker players using offshore sites that expose them to financial fraud. It's counterproductive.

VN: Do you play poker?

RW: I play casually.

VN: What did you think of the WSOP floor?

RW: I wish more people could see the WSOP. It shows there's an extraordinary enthusiasm for the game of skill.

D'Amato, Wexler bring UIGEA fight to Vegas is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.