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April 19, 2014

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POLITICS & GAMING:

Loyalists, until it comes to Internet gambling

Online poker lobby composed mainly of GOP guys fights party opposition to computer wagering

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Slipped into the 92-page Republican Party platform are two sentences that drive poker players nuts.

In those slim lines, approved in 2004, the party spells out its opposition to Internet gambling — that $15 billion industry that in just a few short years has turned half the guys (and a number of women) you know into poker-playing geniuses.

This year, as Republicans prepare to draft the 2008 party platform, poker players are fighting back.

Go to the Republican Party’s Web site and start scrolling through the responses to the platform. You will see an army of poker players arguing it is time for Republicans to end their opposition to gambling online.

“Being a lifelong Republican, I was both dumb-founded and dismayed that the Republican Platform includes a specific directive against Internet gaming,” Steve from Georgia writes.

“Whoever decided this was a good idea should’ve thought twice because this does nothing but take away every American’s right to spend their own money in their own home as they see fit.”

Jack in Texas writes: “The GOP stands for Freedom from Government Oppression. Stating in our platform that we are against Internet gambling or any other form of government controlled gambling (Casinos) just puts more restrictions on Freedom of the People.”

And so it goes.

The 1 million-member Poker Players Alliance is waging the write-in campaign as it tries to encourage Republicans to reconsider.

At a minimum, the group wants the Republican Party to remove the language from the platform. In a perfect world, the poker players would persuade the party to support what the group wants — regulating and licensing online gambling.

That’s a long shot. Even the most ambitious gamblers know getting Republicans to publicly support them is not a safe bet. The party has been led by social conservatives for 25 years, and “values voters” and religious groups have pushed Republicans to take a harder line against gambling as a social ill.

Even Democrats, who have been friendlier to gambling interests, have no pro-gambling language in their platform. (The Poker Players Alliance is trying to nudge them in that direction this year, too.)

Poker players and Republicans have been dueling since 2000, when the Republican Party first included its opposition to online gambling.

By 2004, the platform read: “Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports.”

Then came 2006, with a Republican-backed bill to ban gambling online. In one of the final acts of the Republican-controlled Congress, lawmakers in the middle of the night tucked the Internet gambling bill into must-pass port security legislation. The bill passed, and poker players have been skirting the law to continue playing online ever since.

After longtime Republican Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa lost his reelection bid that fall, some observers mused that his authorship of anti-Internet gambling legislation did him in.

Nevada Republican Rep. Jon Porter said that before any policy decisions are made, Congress should pass the bill he co-authored with Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada to study the effects of online gambling. Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign could not immediately respond to questions from the Sun on Wednesday. Republican Rep. Dean Heller failed to respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, also supports the study bill, but doesn’t envision a pro-gambling plank coming this year in the Democratic Party platform.

Even Berkley gave the poker players slim odds. “While I would support a nod to Internet gaming in the platform, I cannot imagine that such language would be added at this late date,” she said in a statement.

John Pappas, spokesman for the Poker Players Alliance, said that although online poker players tend to be Republican, the group’s aim is not partisan.

But he said his group will remind members where the parties stand on the issue.

“Come election time we’re going to have to let our people know.”

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