Will the Senate Majority Leader push to attach a federal online poker bill this month?
Editorial/Opinion
December 06, 2011
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It was one year ago that the online poker world held its collective breath waiting to see if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would get federal online poker legislation attached to a necessary tax cut bill. “With Reid at the helm of a compromise, online poker might slip in somewhere … might.” Reid failed and one year later there are slight hopes that another push could be in the works this month.

On Sunday it was announced that Senator Reid will unveil a new plan this week to extend payroll tax cuts for working Americans. Republicans and Democrats both agreed in the media that Congress is likely to reach a deal to extend the cuts by the end of the month. With Reid at the helm of a compromise, online poker might slip in somewhere … might.

“He indicated to me it will be paid for,” Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) said. “It will be paid for in a way that’s credible and serious.”

At a gaming conference last month former Rep. Joe Porter (R-NV), a supporter of internet poker, said that normal passage of a bill is “very unlikely” but that legislation could find its way to an omnibus spending bill at some point citing Reid as the champion. Porter also made a vague claim that longtime foe of online gambling Jon Kyl (D-AZ) was “doing everything he can” for Senator Reid.

“At this point I remain cautious of claims that a bill is imminent, but I would not be surprised if something did happen this month.” Also last month the New York Post broke a story that a federal poker bill would be proposed in the Senate by the end of the current congressional session ending next year. I contacted the author of this article seeking clarity on the timeline of this potential introduction and he informed me that in the article he meant “the end of this year, so within the next few weeks” for introduction.

At this point I remain cautious of claims that a bill is imminent, but I would not be surprised if something did happen this month. If last December tells us anything, it’s that poker players need to be on their toes since a bill can emerge pretty quickly, especially with a Senator as powerful as Reid behind the push.

Currently, Congress must pass nine appropriations before spending measures stop on December 16th and decide how to move forward on several tax cuts that will expire at the end of the year, including this week’s payroll tax cut. Senator Reid has a key role in forging an agreement on many of these measures and it’s no secret that he has been shopping for a place to attach his online poker legislation for some time.

Despite these potentials, a real push by the Senator is more likely to happen in December 2012 during the “lame duck” period that ends the current session. This is the time when lawmakers are most aggressive with bills since it is the small window between election results and the next session of congress. Last year’s poker bill almost came to fruition during the lame duck and I have little doubt that it will be in play next year should nothing happen before then.

The verdict is also still out on whether Senator Kyl is behind Reid’s push. The ongoing dynamic between Reid and Kyl will be one of the biggest stories for online poker in 2012.

Other obstacles facing a Reid bill in 2012:

  • State lotteries fearing that online poker may hurt their revenues.
  • Tribal gaming interests who want a share or outright possession of the online poker market.
  • The 2012 elections which may distract lawmakers from moving on a bill.
  • Stalling discussions on bots, collusion, and consumer protection.

I will be closely following developments in the Senate in the coming days and continue to seek out any information on a possible “#Reidbill” introduction. At this point anything is possible but the safe bet is to recognize the many political obstacles a poker bill faces and plan for the long-term. In the meantime we must continue contacting our lawmakers by any means necessary as we eagerly await a sweat!

Zack Tracy is a graduate student and former professional poker player invested in fighting for poker rights. He frequently posts on the twoplustwo forums under 'sluggger5x’ and can also be followed on twitter at @sluggger5x.