The poker industry played a game of chance Thursday when venturing into the backyard of some of its harshest critics - conservatives - to fend off the assault on their “sport.”
Stressing that poker is a game of skill, like golf, and not chance, like roulette, slots or other forms of gambling, the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) set up a table at the Conservative Political Action Conference to lobby against local, state and federal encroachments on both online and offline versions of the card game.
“I don’t want the government telling me what to do unless I’m hurting you,” said 2004 World Series of Poker champion Greg “Fossilman” Raymer. “The only issue is going to be protecting children. I don’t believe that adults should be protected from themselves by the government; that’s what your family’s supposed to do.”
Mr. Raymer was greeted at CPAC by a line of eager autograph-seekers, most of whom identified themselves as staunch conservatives.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Tim Peabody, a student from Bryant University, said of the group’s presence at the conference.
Mr. Peabody said he considers himself a social conservative even though he supports the right of adults to play poker. “You can’t categorize everybody into one group,” he said.
But disapproval among some pro-family conservatives - who have long decried the dangers of gambling - made the appearance of poker advocates, whose booth was adorned with signs including “Poker is not a crime,” all the more unexpected.
“I enjoy a good game of poker as much as any other red-blooded male, but I think we have to start putting the impact on children more into these kinds of decisions,” said Gary L. Bauer, president of American Values and a former Republican presidential candidate.
“The problem with online gambling is that it becomes almost impossible to make sure that children aren’t accessing it. The average parent can’t monitor every second that their child is on the Internet so I hope my colleagues at CPAC will see through the argument that’s being made by the poker advocates,” Mr. Bauer said.
While social poker games are legal in most states, few permit commercial matches. Authorities in several states also have cracked down on private tournaments and charity poker events as illegal gambling, drawing legal challenges by attorneys for the PPA.
Though a 2006 federal law does not expressly ban Internet poker, it hampers the industry by prohibiting banks from transferring funds to online gambling sites. The chief proponents of that law - the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act - were conservatives. Among them were Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader at the time, and current Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.
At CPAC, Mr. Raymer and other members of the PPA made the case for overturning that law, noting that high-profile conservatives including George Will, Walter Williams, Grover Norquist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey oppose prohibitions on poker. They also stressed that poker is a game of skill, not chance - a significant legal distinction in many states.
“If they’re at the 7-Eleven selling to 15-year-olds, they’ll shut you down,” said Richard Muny, the group’s Kentucky state director, arguing that legalizing online gambling would protect children more than banning it would. “Right now money flows offshore. That money could flow from the other nations to the U.S.”
Repealing the enforcement act could produce between $8.7 billion and $17.6 billion in revenue from taxes and fees, according to a 2007 PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey.
Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, has sponsored legislation to do so in the past and is expected to introduce it again this session. Although Mr. Muny acknowledged that the bill faces an uphill battle, he said the group is closer than it’s ever been before.