Congressman Barney Frank Talks Online Poker Measure With Gambling911

Written by:
C Costigan
Published on:
Barney Frank


This week Gambling911.com Senior International Correspondent Jenny Woo sat down with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass) to discuss HR 2267, a measure he sponsored that would ultimately legalize online poker. 

While the road ahead may still be long, an important milestone was reached last week when the measure passed in a House Subcommittee and will now move into the House and Senate. 

JENNY: First off, congratulations.  Every single person we have spoken to in the industry truly believes there is finally hope that legalized online poker in the US can finally become a reality.  Thank you for all your hard work Congressman Frank.

FRANK: I think that’s right. Not simply that we got it out but the size of the votes. You know, if I had won that by two votes – it’s obviously a long way to go but the fact that the Democrats stayed ninety percent in favor and with all the personal pressure – and that the toughest place for Republicans is (that) the senior Republican there makes this a very personal issue. He cares about it very deeply. So I don’t think any of the forum is as much “Republican” support for the ban. The fact that we won by such a big vote is very encouraging for the future.

(Frank was referring to Spencer Bacchus (R-Alabama) who has strongly opposed legalized online gambling, comparing Internet gamblers to heroin addicts at one point during previous hearings on the matter)

JENNY:  How confident on a scale of 1 to 10 are you that HR 2267 will ultimately pass this year?

FRANK: I’m not going to give a number because these things can be self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s not going to be - here we are going to be in session both before and after the election. I think with this kind of support – I’ve talked to the people of the Ways and Means Committee who (we) are now ready to bring out the tax bill. I’m optimistic about the House. You know with the Senate, you can never be sure because of the Republicans filibuster but I will say this – and your audience should know this – what’s more important than my estimate of the chances is the fact that they can affect those chances. If a whole lot of people who resent being told by the government that they can’t do what they want to do – call their representative and senators and it’ll pass this year.

JENNY:  What do you foresee as the biggest obstacle in getting the bill passed?

FRANK: If there was Republican opposition in the Senate – you have the right wing. It’s an interesting combination of components. In the old days in the South, they use to have prohibition that was supported by the ministers who thought drinking was immoral and the bootleggers who made a lot of money off making it illegally. My opposition coalition today consists of the moralists who think gambling is a terrible thing and the monopolists who have gambling rights and don’t want to share them. So what will hold it back will be this right wing opposition that will make Republican Senators vote the filibuster. We did very well in the house but you have some people who can be influenced by the tribes and some others. So if we can get ninety percent of the Democrats, I’ll be feeling very good but we’ll still need eighty nine Republicans and there’s this terrible pressure within the Republican party from the right. So if it’s held up, that’s what will be holding it up – it’s the influence of the roguish right in the Republican Party.

JENNY: That being said, do you feel if this were to go for vote today minus the influence from roguish Republicans, are we getting enough votes in both the House and Senate to get this passed?

FRANK: I’m going to repeat to you what I just said. I don’t want your audience sitting by passively and listening to my prediction. They can influence that. The answer is YES if enough of them will get on the phone and get to their emails and pressure their representatives and senators. No, if they don’t. This is not some preordained thing. This is a political process. I think this - people have been telling me “Oh it’s hopeless, etc”. I’m hoping that with the big vote we got, which was encouraging - let me go back a step – sometimes if people think a cause is hopeless – they won’t get involved. Well I hope they now know it’s not hopeless but it’s not a slam-dunk either. Whether or not this bill can pass depends on how many people who want it to pass call up because I guarantee you the right wing opponents will be working on this and they’ll be doing everything they can to kill it. So we need to hear from people.

JENNY: When do you expect the final vote will take place?  In October?  During the lame duck session?

FRANK: As soon as I think we have enough votes.

JENNY: An amendment to the bill requires that a licensee not have taken customers from the US post-UIGEA.  As you know, both PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker have continued to take US customers since passage in October 2006.  

FRANK: I think the general principle will be there but those things can be worked on as it goes forward.

JENNY: While it is understood that sports betting is not included in this measure, many of the European gambling sites are looking to enter the U.S. market once the law is passed. Will a Ladbrokes or William Hill be able to obtain a license in the U.S. for their respective poker rooms and, if so, what is to stop them from processing sports bets.  

FRANK: Well it depends on what the situation was. But I must tell you that I’m more interested in the right of people in this country to do what they want on the Internet than to protect this or that foreign company.

JENNY: How will the processors be able to tell the difference between sports bets and poker transactions?

FRANK: How will they? Well they’re going to have to try but it’s going to be hard. But I think that will have to be policed in part by policing the people who take the bets.

JENNY: On the subject of payment processors, will they too have to be licensed? As you are aware a number of payment processors dealing with the offshore gambling companies right now are under investigation by the US Attorney's Office out of New York and Maryland.  Even after the law passes, how can a payment processor like PayPal be ensured they too will not come under scrutiny from law enforcement?

FRANK: Let me again say – I’m not in this to protect any particular company. And I’m confident that if we get this bill through, there will be companies that will be there for people to gamble. My mission is to try to accommodate the freedom of American citizens. What companies do or don’t benefit from that is not of great importance to me. 

JENNY: Is there anything else that you would like out readers to know?

FRANK: Yeah, that they call up their representatives and senators to get this bill through.

JENNY: And that’s in order for us to move forward and win this.

FRANK: Yup. We can’t win if they (the online poker community) don’t act.

Jenny Woo, Gambling911.com Senior International Correspondent

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