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Players state case for lifting poker ban

WASHINGTON — Poker is good for you.

That’s what Internet poker players are telling members of Congress this week as they lobby to exempt poker from an online gambling ban.

“Really, poker is just much closer to chess than it is to the other standard casino games,” said Andrew Woods, a student at Harvard Law School who has played poker to help pay for his education.

Poker develops cognitive, mathematical and psychological skills which help students become successful in life, said Woods, who founded the Bruin Casino Gaming Society when he attended the University of California, Los Angeles and has helped establish the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society at Harvard.

Charles Nesson, a law professor at Harvard, said he would like to teach poker to children.

“I think poker has tremendous educational utility for kids,” Nesson said. “I think it’s a great family game.”

Nesson said he thinks the Internet gambling ban is vulnerable.

Woods and Nesson were among six speakers who participated Wednesday in a panel discussion on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Poker Players Alliance.

Poker advocates acknowledge they are in an uphill fight to roll back the Internet gambling ban enacted last year by Congress.

They launched a lobbying drive this week partly because a bill by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., to overturn the ban has stalled.

Frank’s bill has 39 co-sponsors — 25 fewer than a bill by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., calling for a study of Internet gambling by the National Research Council.

Another bill, by Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., which would specifically exempt poker from the ban, has 17 co-sponsors.

“We believe that if we can’t achieve at least a small victory this year, we can get the larger piece of the pie in 2008,” said John Pappas, vice president of government affairs for the Poker Players Alliance.

The United States may have to pay up to $100 billion to the European Union and seven other trading partners because the Internet gambling ban violates international trade rules. The World Trade Organization is expected to issue a decision on the sum by Dec. 14.

Howard Lederer, a Las Vegas gambler who has earned more than $3 million in poker tournaments, said the ban already has stemmed the growth not only of gambling but other online games as well.

“Just in the last few weeks, Visa and MasterCard stopped accepting bridge transactions, for example,” Lederer said.

Proposed regulations by the U.S. Department of Treasury to enforce the ban may have made the situation worse, said Radley Balko, a senior editor of the libertarian Reason magazine.

Banks may be blocking more Internet transactions than they should because they don’t want to risk violating federal law, Balko said.

“From a civil libertarian standpoint, I think there is something quite disturbing about the government instructing financial institutions to start monitoring the transactions of their customers to determine what is and isn’t allowed,” Balko said.

If the ban is overturned and Internet gambling is allowed in the United States, mainstream casinos would likely take over the industry, according to Washington attorney Kenneth Adams.

“The whole field would change,” Adams said.

Contact reporter Tony Batt at tbatt@reviewjournal.com or (202) 783-1760.

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