The online poker industry is inching ever closer to what could be an earth-shattering day. On December 1st, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act officially comes into effect. The law will force banks to vet their financial transactions to ensure that they are not moving money to and from proprietors of “illegal online gambling”. This nebulous term is defined by state law, even though most states have no explicit laws regarding online gambling. This makes it almost impossible for financial institutions to decide which companies are or are not illegal, forcing them to block every single transfer related to any online gambling company, or else risk prosecution.
Poker’s legislative proponents are understandably nervous about the impending deadline and have been working hard to prevent it. Barney Frank, the industry’s most powerful ally in Washington, has recently authored a letter in which he encourages the government to delay the implementation of the UIGEA. Frank is awaiting the hearing for two online gambling bills, one that would established a licensed and regulated online gambling industry and another that would delay the UIGEA. However, as head of the House Financial Services Committee, he has been forced to concentrate most of his efforts on repairing the damaged U.S. economy.
The letter was addressed to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. “We are writing to strongly urge you … to extend the date of compliance for the final regulations implementing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act by one year,” it read. Nineteen other legislative officials joined Frank in signing the letter, many of whom were already co-sponsors of one or more of his bills. Among the signees was Republican Ron Paul (TX), another strong proponent of legal online poker in America.
Meanwhile, the Poker Player’s Alliance has been extremely active in trying to stall the UIGEA. In addition to aiding Congressman Frank with his efforts, they have reportedly been drafting a new bill which they hope can be rushed through the system. Last month the PPA announced that they were exploring other avenues aside from Frank’s bills, given that they are unlikely to be heard before December 1st. Poker News Today quoted PPA Executive Director John Pappas. “We’re hopeful that if we can present to Chairman Frank a compromised bill, that could easily go through his committee without too much fighting and debate. Hopefully, we wouldn’t even have to have a hearing. It could be a markup. A hearing is where you sit and talk about the bill. A markup is where you actually vote on it.”
These last gasp efforts may not be enough to forestall the UIGEA’s introduction and it could become even harder for Americans to play online poker over the cold Winter months. On the other hand, when the law was first introduced in 2006, although it put paid to the poker boom, it failed to stop the industry growing. The success of failure of these legislative efforts and the potential effects of an officially active UIGEA will not be known until December arrives.