WASHINGTON — Casino corporations that advocate legalizing Internet poker rolled out some big guns Thursday to advance their cause.
An industry-funded coalition introduced former FBI Director Louis Freeh and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to bolster the argument that federal regulation of online poker would protect consumers and allow authorities to police sites that sponsor games.
Freeh has joined Ridge on the board of FairPlayUSA, an effort launched this summer with startup funding from Caesars Entertainment Inc. and MGM Resorts International to build support to legalize online poker.
Despite indictments this spring targeting three of the largest online poker companies, the former federal law enforcers said current law on Internet gaming has been ineffective.
“The fact is there are millions and millions of people playing the game today,” Ridge said at a media event in the U.S. Capitol. “Congress in 2006 decided to prohibit all Internet gambling. Was it well intentioned? Yes. Has it been effective? With respect to those who thought they were doing the right thing by banning it, the answer is unequivocally no.
“Prohibition hasn’t worked, criminalization doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Ridge added. “The alternative is to encourage Congress, with the right input from the law enforcement community, consumer protection advocates, child safety advocates, professional players, to develop a regulatory scheme to enable law enforcement to oversee lawful Internet poker.”
Officials with FairPlayUSA say they are building a coalition of those groups to support a federal law to define Internet gambling and provide umbrella protections they say will not be possible if states are allowed to enact individual poker laws.
Board member Parry Aftab, a child advocate and Internet safety expert, said the group has not endorsed specific legislation.
A group of lawmakers including Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., introduced a poker legalization bill this summer.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also is drafting a bill after trying to get one passed in the final days of Congress last year.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephens
media.com or 202-783-1760.