Congress reaches tentative deal on payroll legislation; no sign of poker language

TAGs: Daniel Akaka, Harry Reid, mary bono mack, Poker Players Alliance

congress-payroll-deal-online-pokerOn Tuesday, Poker Players Alliance director of grassroots and external affairs Drew Lesofski cautioned Pocket Fives that the chances of online poker legislation being added to the payroll tax cut extension bill currently dominating the Washington political scene was “not likely.” Lesofski’s statement was followed by news that congress had tentatively reached a deal on the payroll tax cut as well as associated legislation involving reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients (aka the ‘doc fix’) and the extension of jobless benefits — the latter Lesofski now suggests is a “more likely” candidate to receive an online poker appendage.

Details of the deal could emerge if approved by a bipartisan panel on Wednesday, and could come up for a vote in the House as early as the end of this week. House Republicans had earlier signaled their willingness to drop their demand for the payroll tax cut to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, but whether poker will be included as a revenue generator to offset the effects of the unemployment benefits extension and the ‘doc fix’ remains an open question.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the wellspring from which all US online poker players’ hopes and dreams appear to flow, said he preferred the payroll legislation be fast-tracked to minimize meddling (by people other than himself). “I would rather have the conference committee [finalize the legislation’s wording]. If the conference committee does it, it is a non-amendable item. If we get a free-standing bill, it is amendable 1,000 times.” So if Reid can convince conference committee members to accept an online poker provision as part of the legislation, those rank and file members of the House and Senate who are opposed to online poker would have to defeat the entire legislative package in which poker was wrapped. Then again, President Obama may not take kindly to Reid slipping in a borderline controversial pet project that might jeopardize passage of the ‘real’ legislation. Obama said congress must pass the legislation “now, without drama and without delay. No ideological sideshows to gum up the works, no self-inflicted wounds.”

Tuesday also saw the release of an op-ed co-signed by Rep. Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA) and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), both of whom have recently chaired online gambling hearings in their respective chambers. The op-ed (which appeared briefly on The Hill website on Monday before being taken down and reposted Tuesday) is titled Failing to Consult with Stakeholders on Internet Gaming is an Unacceptable Gamble; the stakeholders in question being native American tribes.

The two pols claim their recent hearings made one thing “very clear: although collaboration has occurred between lawmakers and large-chain casinos, similar conversations must also take place between these same legislators and leading tribal gaming enterprises.” The op-ed alludes to Reid’s obsession with ensuring Nevada-based casino giants end up with the biggest slice of the pie by stating that it’s not the job of congress “to pick winners and losers; it’s our job to make sure everyone gets a fair shot. And right now, we believe Native Americans are facing a stacked deck … It’s imperative that we be deliberate and thoughtful in our process … as we consider the future of internet gaming.” So will Reid be deliberate and thoughtful in his approach, or will he damn the torpedoes and attach a poker bill to whatever legislation looks most likely to pass? Should be an interesting week or two…


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