In the wake of four Republican Congressmen’s appeal for clarity in the application of the UIGEA one of their fellow Representatives – Pete Sessions (R-TX) – has attempted to do just that. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Clarification and Implementation Act of 2008 (H.R. 6663) seeks to limit the scope of the UIGEA to sports betting alone.
The bill points out that before the introduction of the UIGEA gambling law was extremely outdated, having been introduced before the internet was widely used for gambling. Further to this, all previous online gambling prosecutions have involved sports betting alone, leading to confusion in the industry as to whether those companies offering non-sports betting services were contravening federal law. This uncertainty about the scope of the law has lead many firms to cease offering services to US customers and, in some cases, to leave the country altogether.
However despite its best intentions the bill has come in for heavy criticism from the ever-present Poker Players Alliance (PPA). Chairman Alfonse D’Amato has stated that they are “puzzled by the introduction of H.R. 6663 and by the purpose of this legislation. While we agree with several findings in the bill that correctly identify the illegality of sports wagering, the PPA remains concerned with the implication H.R. 6663 asserts in that the UIGEA has made Internet poker an unlawful activity that needs special protection from prosecution. ”
The PPA view these clarifications as a backwards step in the quest to categorically state that online poker does not fall under the legislative power of the UIGEA. For the bill to claim that there is confusion as to whether online poker is in fact illegal only adds to the uncertainty. The UIGEA itself makes no mention of online poker and the PPA are looking for a clear statement that absolves the providers of online poker services.
The crux of the PPA’s argument is that the UIGEA is committed to not “altering, limiting or extending any Federal or State law.” As previous federal cases relating to online gambling, reliant upon the WIRE act of 1961, only dealt with sports betting the UIGEA cannot act to alter the precedent to include poker.
By implying that “the sites on which millions of Americans currently play are offering poker services in defiance of federal law,” the vaunted clarification process will only make things more complicated, claim the PPA. D’Amato points out that the PPA are, in general, in favor of the work of Rep. Pete Sessions however they “cannot support this bill in its current form.”
The cross-party bill is supported by three Democratic Congressmen: Marion Berry of Arkansas, Jesse Jackson Jr. from Illinois, and Bill Delahunt from Massachusetts. The fate of the bill will not be known until September at the earliest, after Congress returns from its summer break.