- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Three poker champions played politics in Washington yesterday, complaining that Congress is using a stacked deck in dealing with the burgeoning, multibillion-dollar Internet gambling industry.

Texas Hold’em masters Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, Greg “Fossil Man” Raymer and Howard “The Professor” Lederer said bills pending in the House and Senate would outlaw poker gambling online, where an estimated 3 million Americans ante up $5 billion annually via virtual betting tables.

They told congressional staffers that a federal prohibition would stunt the growth of the wildly popular game by depriving residents of most states of legal poker gambling and a way to qualify for million-dollar tournaments, such as the yearly main-event World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

The $10,000-entry-fee-tournament attracted 800 players in 2003 as ESPN opened a window on the culture of high-stakes Texas Hold’em. The network offered table-by-table coverage, player profiles, lively commentary and innovative hole-card cameras that let viewers see who was bluffing. Last year, nearly 6,000 poker players anted up. In July, as many as 10,000 players are expected to descend on Las Vegas to win a World Series of Poker bracelet, the symbol of a professional poker champion.

“These people would not be able to play in the World Series of Poker without Internet poker,” Mr. Lederer told editors and reporters of The Washington Times. He, like other champions, is capitalizing on the Internet poker explosion by winning higher purses and working business deals with online wagering sites.

The Nevada-based Poker Players Alliance wants states to legalize and regulate computer poker sites, where players can set up wagering accounts and join games for nickels and dimes, or for much higher stakes. No state now authorizes online poker wagers. Sites such as PokerStars.com, Fulltiltpoker.com and PartyPoker.net operate offshore.

“We’d love to see it regulated and taxed,” said Michael Bolcerek, Players Alliance president. He said states would reap new revenue and create jobs just as they do from horse racing, lotteries and casinos. He listed these statistics: 70 million Americans play poker, 23 million online, and 3 million at wagering sites; Americans bet $12 billion online on sports, with $5 billion on offshore poker sites.

Mr. Bolcerek said he is in Washington “to open a dialogue about the importance of talking about poker as a game of skill and as an American tradition.”

Right now, Congress holds all the cards. “The government is doing things to scare people,” Mr. Ferguson said.

Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, is scheduled to testify today on his bill to prohibit interstate Internet gambling before the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security.

His bill would shut down access to offshore gambling sites by barring wire transfers.

“What we are targeting is people who are located outside the United States who are unregulated, untaxed and who are sucking billions of dollars out of the United States,” Mr. Goodlatte said yesterday. He said a state would be free to authorize online poker wagering only if playing is confined to people inside the state, but states might view it as impossible to enforce such a restriction, he said.

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