Debt Super Committee Could Hold Key to Online Poker Legislation



Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Internet poker legislation "will get done." This is the first time the Nevada senator has spoken so assuredly about the future of online poker. Whether Reid’s prediction happens sooner rather than later likely will depend on the debt super committee.

The joint select committee on deficit reduction has been tasked with finding at least $1.5 trillion in debt savings over the next 10 years. Licensing and regulating Internet poker is a way the committee could identify billions of dollars with little effort.

"I think there’s a very good chance we’re going to get in the discussion," Poker Players Alliance executive director John Pappas said about online poker. "Whether it makes it into the final recommendation is the question."

The super committee is a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the debt-ceiling agreement signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 2. The law created the bipartisan committee, which has been called super because it has the unprecedented authority to craft a bill that may not be amended or filibustered. The bill, as written by the committee, will get a majority vote in the Senate and House. If passed, it will go to President Obama for final approval.

If online poker is put on the bill by the committee, it is there to stay. Whether or not the bill passes will have little to do with poker and be all about politics, but poker will be along for the ride. If poker is put on the bill, the second hurdle will be for the committee itself to come to an agreement. With six Democrats and six Republicans, the committee will be in a 6-6 deadlock unless at least one member is willing to break party lines. The 12 members were picked by the leadership of their party, presumably with loyalty in mind.

The 12 members are Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Max Baucus (Mont.) and John F. Kerry (Mass.), Republican Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Democratic Reps. James Clyburn (S.C.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.), and Republican Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.), Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Fred Upton (Mich.).

The lineup doesn’t give particular reason for optimism on poker’s prospects. Upton, Clyburn, Becerra and Van Hollen all have grades of "B" in the PPA’s congressional ratings, Kyl and Camp have grades of "F," and the rest are unknowns.

"The people holding the cards I think will be Kyl and Reid," Pappas said. "Even though Reid is not on the commission, he appointed people who are. If Kyl and Reid can compromise on a deal to include online poker, I think it can happen. It’s handing Congress revenue without raising taxes, which is exactly what they’re looking for."

Kyl blocked Reid’s attempt to attach an online poker proposal to must-pass legislation during last year’s lame-duck session. However, he wrote on his official website earlier this year that he would consider efforts to legalize online poker if other aspects of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act are strengthened. Then Kyl and Reid combined on a letter last month to Attorney General Eric Holder that wasn’t at all favorable to online poker but indicated that the two Senators were working together on the issue, sparking speculation that they were approaching a compromise that would allow for licensing and regulating the activity.

One has to wonder about the timing of Reid’s statement that Internet poker legislation will get done coming as the super committee approaches. The optimistic among the poker community might look at that as a sign that Reid and Kyl have reached an agreement.

There is no official word on when the super committee will begin its work. The Budget Control Act requires that the committee vote on a proposal by Nov. 23. Any poker legislation discussed is likely to be a not-yet-released Reid proposal rather than the bill introduced by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) in the House. It would also have to include tax language in order to estimate the amount of money licensing online poker could take off the deficit. There never has been poker-only tax legislation introduced, though the proposal floated by Reid at the end of last year did include tax language that could be adapted.

Although Pappas thinks the decision on whether to include poker will be made by Reid and Kyl, the PPA is recommending that poker players go all out in sending emails to members of the committee and posting on their Facebook pages in support of licensing and regulating Internet poker. Usually, the PPA recommends that players only contact their specific representatives. Since the committee is tackling a national issue, it is appropriate for players to contact all the members.

"If we’re able to get a lot of PPA members tuned up to contact members of the committee and say to include online poker, I think when it comes up in their discussions that it will be much more palatable to them than if they go into this without any understanding that there are a bunch of people out there who care about this," Pappas said. "We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket but, if we’re looking at something between now and the end of the year, this is our best shot."

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