Poker alliance looks to sway Congress

WASHINGTON -- The Poker Players Alliance hopes a hot hand in
the nation's capital this week will help its efforts to legalize
online poker.

As part of its "National Poker Week," the group has set up
nearly 100 meetings with members of Congress and their aides, and
plans to present a petition to President Barack Obama on Wednesday
that had more than 350,000 signatures at last count. Famous poker
players such as Annie Duke, Howard Lederer, Andy Bloch and Greg
Raymer are participating as well.

On Tuesday night, the poker group will host a charity poker
tournament, with proceeds going to the USO and Walter Reed Army
Medical Center.

The Poker Players Alliance, chaired by former Sen. Alfonse
D'Amato, R-N.Y., gets its money from the Interactive Gaming
Council, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based trade association for
online casinos, as well as from the alliance's poker player

In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling
Enforcement Act, which aimed to curb online gambling by prohibiting
financial institutions from accepting payments from credit cards,
checks or electronic fund transfers to settle online wagers. The
law didn't provide a clear definition of unlawful Internet
gambling, instead referring to existing federal and state laws,
which themselves provoke differing interpretations.

The Justice Department maintained that Internet gambling was
illegal even before that law, a position the poker players
challenge. Their goal is to pass legislation that would license and
regulate online poker.

On Monday, the players hosted a congressional staff briefing,
aimed at showing how online poker can be effectively regulated in
the U.S. Staffers from about 20 congressional offices attended the
meeting, according to the poker group.

The event had the feel of an infomercial. John Pappas, the poker
group's executive director, asked questions of the panelists that
inevitably ended with friendly responses.

"What about children?" asked Pappas. Is it possible, he asked,
to create an online environment that allows adults to play but
keeps minors off?

Yes, responded panelist Parry Aftab, founder and executive
director of WiredSafety.org, a New York-based cyber-safety group.
She pointed to parental control technology on computer operating

And panelist Paul Mathews, an independent consultant and a
former executive with International Game Technology, said online
gambling can actually help decrease pathological gambling by
letting players set limits on how much they want to bet or lose
ahead of time.

But Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of
America, which opposes online gambling, was not moved by any of

"We still don't support it," she said in a telephone
interview. "When you start gambling on the Internet, it's just too
accessible. You can do it from home, and it's so much easier. We
just feel like that's an issue that has a tendency to break up the

Combs didn't seem concerned that the poker group's efforts would
have much of an impact.

"I don't think it's going to come up" in Congress, she said.
"If we think it will, then we definitely will work it hard."

The poker group supports legislation by Rep. Barney Frank, a
Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the House Financial Services
Committee, that would regulate rather than ban Internet gambling.

In its petition to Obama, titled "Poker is Not a Crime," the
group pushes for poker to be exempted from the Unlawful Internet
Gambling Enforcement Act, and for licensing and regulating of
online poker.

At least half the $16 billion Internet gambling industry, which
is largely hosted on overseas sites, is estimated to be fueled by
U.S. bettors.

The federal government recently froze more than $30 million in
the accounts of payment processors that handle the winnings of
thousands of online poker players. The Poker Players Alliance is
trying to get that money returned.