For those who haven’t heard, the Bush administration is trying to go out with a bang by making it even tougher for us to play poker online. I’m sure this action will vindicate the last eight years in the eyes of future historians (note: that was sarcasm).
I am not a legal expert, so be sure to seek additional information, and/or politely correct me in the comments if I get something wrong. But I have read a bunch of stuff about this, and (obviously) followed the issue very closely. Below is my best attempt at describing the current state of affairs.
As you know, two years ago the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed into law after Bill “Douchebag” Frist tacked it onto a port safety bill that had no chance of being voted down. The UIGEA, contrary to what many people believe, does not make playing poker online a crime. Instead, it disallows banks and other financial institutions from transferring funds to sites whose customers engage in unlawful wagering. What’s “unlawful” depends on a lot of things–first and foremost, on your state. For example, if you live in Washington state, you are committing a felony by playing a $5 Sit-N-Go online. Meanwhile, federal law is murky on the subject. At least a few very knowledgeable people will tell you that there is no federal statute prohibiting online poker. As far as I know, the federal government has never prosecuted anyone for playing online poker.
The passage of UIGEA, which didn’t make online poker playing any more or less illegal than it already was, nonetheless had practical implications. Many sites responded to the legislation by closing their doors to US customers. The law itself, however, has never really been enforced. Now, they’re trying to enforce it.
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Treasury and Federal Reserve laid out a long list of regulations that would carry out and enforce UIGEA. Banks have until December 1, 2009 to comply with these rules. The new regulations go through a 60-day review period before becoming finalized. Why is this important? Because there are 66 days before Barack Obama and the next Congress take office. The people who wanted these regulations to happen thought they had to act quickly, assuming the regulations surely would’ve been scrapped on January 20 or shortly thereafter if that were still an option. So they got the regulations finalized with a few days to spare.
Or so they thought. There’s an odd thing about that 60-day window the Bush administration had. It’s the wrong window. Thanks to the Congressional Review Act of 1996, any regulations finalized within sixty days of Congress adjourning are not considered to be finalized until January 15 of the next year. So that 60-day clock? It won’t start ticking for a while yet. This means that despite the Bush administration’s best efforts to get these regulations in at the eleventh hour, the new Congress can simply repeal them when they convene next year.
That’s the good news. The bad news is there’s no way of knowing whether the new Congress will care enough to address this matter. That’s where we poker players come in. Call your Member of Congress and contact the Obama transition team, as the Poker Players Alliance is recommending, and tell them we want these regulations repealed. If we succeed, it would be a great victory in the ongoing legal battle we’re fighting.
The ultimate goal remains to have poker legal and regulated. After all, even if we get the regulations repealed, UIGEA would still be law. We’d be vulnerable to another Congress deciding to enforce UIGEA whenever they felt like it. If, however, we had a clear-cut federal law declaring online poker legal, we’d almost certainly be completely in the clear. There have been signs that this dream could eventually become reality. But one thing at a time. Defeating the lame duck administration’s last-minute attempts to intrude on our lives is our number one priority. If you care about online poker, then please do your part.