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October 24, 2014

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Second bill to legalize Web poker in U.S. introduced

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Julie Jacobson / AP

Casino industry representatives and exhibitors watch an online poker game during industry’s G2E conference, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in Las Vegas.

Rep. Joe Barton wants to help Poker-lovers stay on the couch.

The Texas Republican introduced a bill in Congress Thursday that would pave the way for states to legalize online poker without fear of federal intervention.

It's the second such Internet gambling bill introduced this year. In June, Republican New York Congressman Peter King introduced a piece of legislation he called the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2013.

Unlike Barton's bill, that gambling act would open the door to all forms of casino games, not just poker.

The federal government cracked down on Internet gambling in 2011. But the same year, the U.S. Justice Department issued a ruling making online gambling legal so long as it's permitted on the state level.

Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized some kind of online gambling, and legislatures in other states are weighing the issue.

Barton's legislation, dubbed the Internet Poker Freedom Act, would only apply to poker and would allow states to opt out of the federal system.

The Texas lawmaker said the bill is needed to protect players and the integrity of the game from shady offshore organizations and confusing patchworks of state-by-state regulation.

"Poker is an all-American game. It's a game that I learned as a teen and continue to play today. Just like millions of other players I enjoy the strategy and skill involved," he said in a statement. "I continue to be supportive of the Americans who play poker online. They deserve to have a legal, on-shore system that makes sure everyone is playing in an honest, fair structure."

Congress flirted with an online gambling bill in 2012, but industry infighting and partisan disagreement ultimately doomed it. When that legislation failed, states began moving ahead on their own.

Online poker remains a legal gray zone, though, with no federal regulatory structure in place.

Morgan Stanley predicts that by 2020, online gambling in the U.S. will produce the same amount of revenue as Las Vegas and Atlantic City markets combined: $9.3 billion. But states cannot get there on their own. A more fluid market is needed to drive up pots and create a robust stream of tax revenue.

The summer could see the introduction of a third online gambling bill.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, who once called the passage of an online poker bill "the most important issue facing Nevada since Yucca Mountain," is working on new legislation with fellow Nevadan Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

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