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April 19, 2014

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Poker players swarm site seeking input on big issues

On the Web, they urge Obama: Overturn ban on Internet gambling

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Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has introduced legislation to repeal the 2006 ban on Internet gambling.

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Those merry pranksters of the legislative process are at it again.

During his transition to the White House, President Barack Obama asked Americans to send him their policy priorities, the makings of a Citizens Briefing Book for his new administration.

Poker players flooded the Web site, suggesting online gambling should be made legal. Poker playing made the top 10 list of subjects sent to the White House, and the No. 1 issue in the technology category.

The timing couldn’t have been better. The briefing book was unveiled last week, just days after legislation was introduced in Congress to repeal the 2006 ban on Internet gambling.

John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said the onslaught is a reminder that “the poker community is strong, growing, active and paying attention to what Washington is doing on this issue.”

This isn’t the first time the 1 million-strong Poker Players Alliance has rallied its community of gamblers to the cause.

Last year, in advance of the Republican National Convention, poker players flooded a Web site soliciting comments on the Republican Party platform. Since 2004 the platform had a flank opposing Internet gambling, a social issue that played to conservatives but annoyed moderate Republican poker players. The e-mail assault was an organizational coup for the loosely affiliated gamers on the national stage.

With the Obama Web site, the poker players “saw a great opportunity to get our issue in front of the new president, who is a self-proclaimed poker player,” Pappas said by e-mail. “Clearly, the citizens are talking and Congress needs to start listening.”

In all, more than 125,000 users suggested 44,000 ideas to the White House. They cast 1.4 million votes for their favorite ideas. Each supportive vote earned 10 points.

Legalizing poker was suggested by an online player from Washington, D.C., under the heading: “Boost America’s Economy with Legal Online Poker.” It earned 46,890 points.

Poker players beat out a suggestion for increasing automotive fuel efficiency standards (46,120) but didn’t outscore “the permanent closure of all torture facilities” (61,250).

Then-President George W. Bush signed the online gambling ban into law in 2006 after legislation was tacked on to a port security bill as one of the final acts of a Republican-controlled Congress. Poker players ever since have steadily mobilized for its repeal.

An American Gaming Association study released Monday shows that 2 percent of adult respondents gamble online. The Poker Players group estimates between 10 million and 15 million Americans regularly gamble on the Internet.

This month, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced legislation that would essentially repeal the ban by instituting a framework for licensing and regulating online games.

Religious groups have vowed to maintain the online gambling ban, saying Internet gaming is a threat to home life and family finances. They compare online gambling with positioning a casino in the living room. Yet the bill appears to have growing support, particularly as lawmakers eye the money-making potential. The Poker Players estimate $3 billion annually could be generated from legitimizing the business.

This year casino giant Harrah’s Entertainment became the first major bricks-and-mortar operation to back the legislation. Nevada Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley signed on as a co-sponsor.

Frank spokesman Steve Adamske said support for the bill depends on the extent to which backers contact their lawmakers. Actions like the briefing book onslaught are “hugely helpful,” he said.

Poker players weren’t the only ones making their voices heard.

In some ways Obama’s briefing book reads like a to-do list he has already started — closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, developing clean energy sources, supporting investment in high-speed rail.

In others it is purely the voice of the people.

The top 10 issues include: “Revoke the George W. Bush tax cuts on the top 1 percent,” “Commit to becoming the ‘greenest’ country in the world,” “No more wars on abstract concepts” and “Ending marijuana prohibition.”

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