I cannot pretend to understand how Washington politics works most of the time. But it’s clear even to me that a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, effectively banning certain forms of online gambling – in particular online poker – is a terrible idea.
In full disclosure, I make my living playing poker.
But this bill does something much worse than threaten my livelihood. It offends common sense – by trying to ban something that is already enjoyed bymillions of Americans and is legal in other forms.
And it is as hypocritical a piece of legislation as Washington has produced in a long time. That’s saying a lot.
Get this. While the sponsors of the bill call it a “prohibition,” the legislation actually clears a path for certain favored types of Internet gambling. For example, the bill affirmatively legalizes online bets on horse races, Internet state lotteries and certain fantasy sports.
I am baffled at how the House can protect online activities like lotteries and betting on horses while sweeping a skill game like poker into the net of prohibition.
Anyone who plays poker knows that, live or online, the game demands a keen understanding of mathematics, basic human psychology and the ability to use experience and skill to think quickly in innumerable situations.
On the other hand, lotteries, which the bill protects, teach us that someone has to get lucky – and please, please let it be me. The only reason to protect lotteries is because they generate tax income through regulation. In that case, I can only hope that Congress will consider licensing, regulating and taxing online poker in the United States.
Supposedly, the authors of the bill view it as a rebuke to the work of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who lobbied against and helped defeat a previous attempt to ban online gambling.
But here is one of those “only in Washington” moments: The bill contains the exact same exemption for state lotteries that Abramoff was fighting for on behalf of his client. The House has passed precisely the bill Abramoff wanted.
An analysis conducted by the nonprofit Poker Players Alliance shows that regulation of online poker could raise more than $3.3 billion in annual revenue for the federal government and an additional $1 billion for state coffers.
Poker should not be a casualty of a misguided attempt to prohibit an activity that should simply be regulated.
Lederer has had 30 money finishes in the World Series of Poker.