Who are the Six Witnesses of the U.S. Online Gambling Debate
Last month, a United States House subcommittee met to discuss the prospect of reversing the country's federal ban on Internet gaming. Six witnesses presented their testimonies, citing reasons for and against legalized online gambling in the country. The Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013, alternately known as H.R. 2666, was also discussed. No decisions were made about the future of online gambling at this meeting. All six witnesses presented engaging, thought-provoking testimony. The following is a brief outline of each speakers' arguments.
Geoff Freeman, American Gaming Association (AGA) President
Geoff Freeman was appointed the new president and CEO of the AGA six months ago. Freeman took over for Frank Fahrenkopf, the organization's originating president. During the meeting, he stated his support for the federal regulation of online gaming, pointing to the industry's out-of-control black market as reason enough for government intervention.
People will spend money on Internet gambling whether the activity is legal or not, said Freeman, and the rate at which the industry picks up followers is snowballing. Because citizens are going to pursue the activity anyway, Freeman maintained that it makes sense to invite federal regulation. The oversight would help protect consumers while simultaneously guarding national security.
John Pappas, Poker Players Alliance CEO
The Poker Players Alliance, or PPA, is a group dedicated to the advocacy of poker players and their protection. John Pappas leads the organization. Like Freeman, Pappas spoke in favor of the federal regulation of online gambling. His idea included a caveat: Online poker should be the only form of regulated Internet gaming in the states.
Pappas voiced his support for H.R. 2666 to the subcommittee. This bill would federally regulate online poker sites that are affiliated with approved corporate and tribal casinos. It has not been passed by the House or Senate yet, nor has President Obama approved it. According to GovTrack.us, the bill has only a two percent chance of becoming law.
Andrew Abboud, Las Vegas Sands VP of Government Relations
In spite of Andrew Abboud's affiliation with Las Vegas Sands, the Government Relations VP brought a startlingly different point of view to the table. Abboud is currently engrossed in a joint effort with Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands CEO, to stop internet gambling completely. The dangers of online wagering, according to the VP, are much greater those of brick-and-mortar casino wagering. Children are especially vulnerable. Anyone with a cell phone could fall prey to the dangers of online gambling. In the privacy of a home, Abboud maintains, it is impossible for casino officials to monitor customers with a protective eye.
Abboud called for a reinstatement of Congress's former interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act. When it was first decreed over 50 years ago, the Wire Act prohibited all types of gambling. In 2011, however, the U.S. Department of Justice narrowed the Wire Act's scope to include only sports betting. As it stands today, sports betting online is prohibited by the Wire Act; other types of betting are not.
Les Bernal, Stop Predatory Gambling Director
Les Bernal is the director of a non-profit group called Stop Predatory Gambling. His stance is similar to Abboud's in that he wants to see an end to the governmental sponsorship of gambling. The non-profit calls gambling “one of the biggest public policy failures in the last 40 years” and believes that taxpayer money should not be used by government to “lure citizens into gambling away their money and becoming slaves of debt.” Bernal also argued that the use of gambling revenue for public institutions like education has not been the financial boon it is purported to be.
Dr. Rachel Volbert, University of Massachusetts Professor
Dr. Rachel Volbert, a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, sided with gambling naysayers Abboud and Bernal. Volbert, an epidemiology expert, presented the subcommittee with international research suggesting that gambling addiction is a more common problem for online players than brick-and-mortar casino patrons. Increased regulation would mean increased addiction, the professor predicted.
Since 1985, Volbert has immersed herself in problem gambling research. She is the principal researcher in a study sponsored by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission which investigates the economic impact of gambling in the state. Volbert has also conducted large-scale problem gambling studies in Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia.
Chapman University law professor Kurt Eggert spoke to the subcommittee of his concern for consumer welfare in the online gaming industry. Online poker players are vulnerable to malicious and fraudulent bots, he warned, and run the risk of being taken advantage of by online casinos that don't share basic information like the hold percentage of their slot machines. Eggert's law career has focused on the issues of predatory lending and gambling regulation.
Congress Members Have Humorous Reactions to Testimonies
In a humorous exchange between Republicans, Representative Joe Barton from Texas joked that “God must be for this bill.” He went on to explain that, after a commute involving an early morning flight, icy roads, and below-freezing temperatures, his plane actually arrived an hour earlier than expected. “That tells me that God is for this bill,” Barton quipped.
Tennessee Representative Marsha Blackburn countered Barton's statement in a playful way, saying, “I would encourage the gentleman from Texas to . . . look at the number of his bill, 2666 . . . the devil is in the details.”
No Immediate Decisions Will Be Made
Online gambling proponents considered the hearing in mid-December an overall victory for their cause. Nevertheless, the subcommittee determined that they will not make any decisions for or against the issue in the near future. Representative Lee Terry, a Republican from Nebraska, said that Washington plans to wait and see how legalized online gaming unravels in Nevada, New Jersey, and other states before making any concrete legislative moves. Three states so far have legalized the activity: Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. A host of other states are currently waiting in line to get their shot at online gaming legalization.