Net poker stance could let pols sway votes


Federal legalization of Internet poker didn't garner a mention during Thursday's hourlong televised debate in Nevada's U.S. Senate race.

The omission wasn't surprising.

Both Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley support efforts to legalize, regulate and tax Internet poker on a federal level.

Even John Pappas, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Poker Players Alliance, the advocacy group pushing for Internet poker legalization, isn't concerned that the issue lacks prominence during the current election cycle.

"We're realistic," Pappas said. "There are obviously much bigger issues facing the American electorate."

It's unclear what impact poker players could have on the election.

However, a candidate's stance on online poker legalization could be enough to swing the voting bloc.

The Poker Players Alliance has more than 1.2 million members. Pappas said a national survey taken of the group found almost two-thirds of poker players would cross party lines to vote for a candidate who supports Internet poker legalization.

The Republican and Democratic parties missed a golden opportunity to reach those voters during the national political conventions.

Republicans folded on the issue when the party's platform called for an all-out prohibition on Internet gambling of any kind.

The Democrats equally mucked their hand. The party ignored the words "poker" and "gaming" in a platform that supported increased expansion and use of the Internet.

In reality, party platforms are meaningless. But the language provided insight into where Internet poker legalization ranks in the national debate.

The Poker Players Alliance has heightened awareness of the issue. The organization produced a voter's guide that graded members of Congress on their support of Internet poker legalization. Nevada's five-person delegation each received an A grade.

This brings us back to the highly competitive Heller-Berkley U.S. Senate race.

Berkley, now in her seventh term, holds a stronger hand than Heller when it comes to historical efforts in supporting Internet poker legalization.

"No question, Shelley is a longtime champion for poker players," Pappas said.

The organization isn't taking a stand on the race.

Heller, who was in the middle of his second term in Congress when he was appointed to Nevada's open U.S. Senate seat last year, went against Republican leaders in 2010 and supported passing an Internet poker bill out of the Financial Services Committee.

"The PPA is pleased with both candidates," Pappas said.

Berkley, however, has been a more vocal advocate.

In 2006, she took to the floor of the House of Representatives and spoke out against the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. It became law later that year when it was added at the last minute to a much-needed piece of legislation covering port security.

In 2007, Berkley tried to convince House members to repeal the act.

That same year, Berkley introduced legislation calling for a one-year study of online wagering by the National Academy of Sciences. She co-sponsored the effort by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., to legalize Internet gaming.

Berkley's support for online poker came while most of the gaming industry and the American Gaming Association sat on the sidelines. Today, casino companies, gaming equipment manufacturers and the American Gaming Association back federal legalization of Internet poker.

"I've always believed that legalizing Internet poker was good for Nevada because of the good-paying jobs it could provide the state," Berkley said. "To me, Internet poker is all about jobs and individual freedom."

On Tuesday at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, the American Gaming Association is expected to release findings of a study that shows Internet gaming worldwide is producing $35 billion in gross revenues.

Berkley is frustrated that the U.S. is not sharing in that pot.

She stayed out of the recent feud between Heller and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over the handling of potential Senate legislation to legalize Internet poker before Congress adjourned this month.

Last week, she echoed Reid's criticism that Heller should have been able to gather 15 Republicans to back the bill that was authored by Reid and Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz.

No matter the final outcome in the election, Berkley said she would support an effort during the lame duck session to push the Reid-Kyl bill through Congress.

Heller might not want to go all-in if Internet poker becomes a topic in the next two Senate debates. Berkley could have pocket aces.

Howard Stutz's Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

 

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