New House Bill May Open Door to Legal Online Poker


The momentum toward federal legalization of online poker took a significant step forward on Friday, June 24, when Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) held a press conference to discuss the details of his legalization bill. The “Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011” would both legalize online poker and create a new federal agency to oversee its administration.

Rep. Barton said at the conference, “This bill is about having the personal freedom to play a skill-based game you enjoy without fear of breaking the law.”

It is notable that Rep. Barton referred to poker as a game of skill rather than chance. This question has arisen in prosecutions of online poker operators, who contend that their game is not a gambling game but a test of skill. If the bill passes, it would probably give a major boost to these defenses.

In the past, the support for legalizing online poker has come from Democrats, but Rep. Barton, a conservative Republican, acknowledged being influenced by his constituents who want online poker to be legalized. “Clearly, Americans want to gamble on the Internet, and policymakers need to provide both the freedom to do so and ensure appropriate consumer protections are in place,” he said at the press conference.

Rep. Barton also contends that the bill would create thousands of jobs and substantial tax revenue for the federal and state governments.

The challenge for Rep. Barton now is generating the bipartisan support needed to get the bill passed. The bill has eleven co-sponsors, including seven Democrats. Even though Congress is in general gridlock because of significant partisan differences on most issues, the existence of some bipartisan support for this bill could increase the chances of advancing the legislation in this session.

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