Five People to Blame for Poker Prohibition

by Carson Cashman | February 15, 2010

Shortly before the mid-term elections in 2006, the US Congress voted on the SAFE Port Act, a piece of legislation designed to provide security measures for busy American ports. However, some crafty politicians attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to the bill shortly before the vote was cast. The resulting legislation made it illegal for banks to process online gambling payments. If you have ever tried to play poker online only to have your payment denied, these people are to blame.

1. Jon Kyl (R-AZ)

Jon Kyl is perhaps poker's most outspoken opponent. From 1996 until 2006, Jon Kyl introduced legislation almost every year to criminalize online gambling. He failed every time until the UIGEA was smuggled into the SAFE Port Act in 2006. Kyl continued his anti-poker crusade in 2009, when he grilled Attorney General Eric Holder on whether he would enforce the UIGEA. Apparently Jon Kyl does not agree with the Republican party idea of less government involvement in people's personal lives.

2. Bill Frist (R-TN)

Bill Frist was the Senator Majority Leader from 2003 until 2007. As Majority Leader, he was instrumental in attaching the UIGEA to the SAFE Port Act. The move was entirely political, as the bill had no chance of passage on its own. When Frist attached the UIGEA to the SAFE Port Act he essentially guaranteed its passage. There was no opportunity for opposition or debate. Congress was about to recess for mid-term elections and any politician who voted against a port security bill would be torn apart at the polls. It was an underhanded and undemocratic move and poker players across the country are still feeling the effects today.

3. George W. Bush

What blame list would be complete without W? President Bush's Department of Justice had been harassing online gambling interests for years prior to the UIGEA. Many have suggested the the Bush administration directed Frist to attach the UIGEA regulations to the SAFE Port Act in an effort to appease religious groups prior to the 2006 mid-terms. Bush finalized the UIGEA regulations at the last minute before he left office in 2008. The move, known as a "midnight drop", is an effort to tie the hands of the next administration on a particular issue. This was just one more sneaky tactic in the sad tale of poker prohibition.

4. Spencer Bachus (R-AL)

Spencer Bachus of Alabama seems to have taken on the prohibitionist role in the House of Representatives. In June, Bachus wrote on op-ed piece for the US News and World Report detailing the typical arguments for prohibiting online poker. Lucky for poker players, Barney Frank wrote the opposing piece and in my opinion handily crushed Bachus' arguments. Bachus sits on the Financial Services Committee with Frank (who is the chair). As such, Bachus has taken his party's official stance of "let's oppose everything they do" and is the vocal Republican opposition to Frank's efforts to legalize online poker.

5. You

That's right, we blame you. Well, maybe not you exactly. But there is some accountability among Americans for the actions of our representatives. These goons are elected by us and they can be defeated by us as well. Representative Jim Leach (R-VA), for example, lost his election due largely to voters who were angry with his support for poker prohibition. The US government has been in the business of protecting us from ourselves since its inception. Alcohol prohibition failed miserably and lead to the rise of violent criminal rackets. We should learn from history and stand up for our rights as Americans and vote these fools out of office. We need to educate our friends and family about poker and about the failure of prohibition. If online poker is ever to be legal in the US, we need to shine a light on the hypocrisy of defending small government when that same government dictates how we may spend our own money.

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