Joe Barton introduces Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013

joe-barton-online-poker-billRep. Joe Barton (R-TX) has introduced HR 2666, the Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2013. The bill (read it here) comes nearly two years to the day after the introduction of HR 2366, Barton’s previous attempt at passing online poker legislation that went nowhere. Will 2666 fare any better? Regardless of Barton’s use of ‘freedom’ as Tea Partier bait, will any self-respecting God-fearing moral conservative vote for legislation that contains the Number of the Beast on its cover page? Just for fun, let’s look past the fire, brimstone and all that freedom-loving goodness to see what’s under the hood…

As you might have gleaned from its title, Barton’s bill is expressly poker-only, unlike Rep. Peter King‘s recent soup-to-nuts legislative effort. Barton’s 2666 contains many passages that could have been lifted wholesale from his previous bill, including the five-year prison terms for anyone who operates an online poker business without a US-issued license. However, Barton generously offers an exception for companies located outside the US that take wagers from players residing outside the US. (In a related development, Barton believes residents of other nations should not be required to stand rigidly at attention while the Star Spangled Banner is performed at the Super Bowl.)

Barton wants the Secretary of Commerce and the National Indian Gaming Commission to establish an Office of Internet Poker Oversight, which would be tasked with qualifying regulatory authorities to issue licenses to and monitor the activities of prospective operators. Individual states would be automatically included in the federal system unless they provide written notice of their intention to opt out, after which operators would be required to geo-block customers from those states. However, said blocking wouldn’t apply to players on lands belonging to federally recognized tribes, unless those tribes had also opted out.

Prospective licensees must have owned or controlled a casino with at least 500 slot machines or a qualified card room for a period of five years prior to submitting their application. Two years after the first licenses are issued, the feds may lessen the above restriction provided they alert the public as to their intentions and allow for a period of public comment.

As for the ‘bad actor’ prohibitions, anyone who’s ever been convicted of accepting online poker bets “in felony violation of Federal or State law” is banned from applying for a license for five years after the first federal licenses are issued. Similar prohibitions apply to anyone who purchases online poker assets from any convicted individual. Also not eligible is anyone convicted of an offense punishable by one or more years in prison or anyone delinquent in payment of any federal or state taxes.

Licensees will be required to disclose the identifies of all other vendors, including affiliates, operators of poker ‘skins’ and anyone providing a licensee with trademarks or other intellectual property. If a regulatory authority cancels or rejects a license application and the licensee applies to another authority within the next 12 months, the feds will stick their beak in and review the application themselves.

Licenses would be valid for five-year terms. License fees would be determined by the individual regulatory authorities, but Barton’s bill doesn’t establish an overarching tax rate. Licensees will have to locate their servers within the state or tribal lands from which their license was issued. Players would not be allowed to wager using their credit cards. Play would not be permitted via ‘internet café’ type establishments. Tribes would not need to renegotiate any tribal-state compact in order to participate in the federal online poker scheme.

The use of poker ‘bots’ is prohibited, as well as any “electronic, electrical, or mechanical device or software or other program or tool which is designed, constructed, or programmed specifically for use in obtaining an advantage … where such advantage is prohibited or otherwise violates the rules of play established by the licensee.” However, such devices would be permitted provided they are registered with the licensing authority.

Operators who fail to apply for US-issued licenses will face fines of up to $1m per day along with the sum of all the bets they take from US residents during their unlicensed heyday. The feds would establish a list of all unlicensed online gambling operators – along with their domain names and the identities of all their principals – which would be updated every 60 days. Stakeholders including “any affected sports organization” and “any person directly harmed by unlicensed Internet gambling” would have the right to submit names for inclusion on the list of evildoers.

Barton’s bill dropped just one day after news broke that a congressional Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance will hold a hearing on “The Expansion of Internet Gambling: Assessing Consumer Protection Concerns” on Wed., July 17 at 10am EST. The Committee is chaired by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), while the ranking Republican is Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. Other Dems include California’s Barbara Boxer, while the GOP is bringing rookie senator and all-around nutjob Ted Cruz, once famously described by Sen. John McCain as a “wacko bird.” Best bring popcorn.