A Conservative Case for Internet Poker

Poker, the American-born game of skill that has captured the imagination of the world in recent years, is under threat from some surprising forces. We at the Poker Players Alliance, a grassroots organization, support individual players’ rights and are fighting against federal legislation that would compromise those rights.

Eminent historian John Lukacs recently called poker "the game closest to the Western conception of life where free will prevails over philosophies of fate or of chance, where men are considered moral agents, and where—at least in the short run—the important thing is not what happens but what people think happens."

From Presidents, generals and justices to average citizens, more than 70 million Americans play poker. But even with its widespread popularity, (even Capitol Hill neighborhoods have a booming social network of players) some members of Congress think that when you put the word "Internet" in front of poker, it makes it bad.

Representatives Jim Leach (R.-Iowa) and Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.) recently introduced bills—HR 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and HR 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act—to prohibit certain forms of gambling on the Internet. These “prohibitions” make for bad legislation not just for poker players but for all Americans.

Individual Liberty

First of all, it is an affront to individual liberty to increase government surveillance of private affairs without sufficient cause. The banking enforcement provisions in both bills require bankers to monitor their customers’ purchases and review their checks. That is unjustified invasion of privacy.

And even while restricting Internet poker, these bills allow certain other types of Internet gambling. Goodlatte’s bill, for example, would allow people to play state lotteries and place horse-racing bets online. These carve-outs for non-skilled games are inequitable and offend our poker-playing members.

If Internet gambling is bad, why not outlaw off-line gambling too?

The proposed legislation will also be costly for taxpayers and businesses. The additional regulations will require significant resources—which could be better used toward counterterrorism efforts—from the Justice Department and FBI to monitor the Internet. Banks and Internet service providers (ISPs) would be deputized to enforce the legislation and would have to spend bottom-line dollars to carry out their obligations with no financial support from the government. That, of course, should concern shareholders in these corporations. But more importantly, all Americans should object when government deputizes private corporations to take actions that invade privacy.

Finally, the Goodlatte bill requires ISPs to remove or disable hyperlinks upon court order, which amounts to censorship of the Internet. Congress has rightly criticized China’s censorship of the free flow of information to its citizens, now this legislation deserves similar scrutiny.

Stopping adults from enjoying a legal American tradition creates a precedent that could extend to censorship of religious and political information that the government deems objectionable. This is a slippery slope for the federal government.

I speak only for the game of poker, and our members who love it. We have no position on broader Internet gambling, but oppose legislation that makes select forms of Internet gambling legal (Internet wagering on horse racing, state lotteries, and fantasy sports), while making poker, a skill game, illegal. We support formal legalization, regulation and even taxation of Internet poker and would welcome a discussion with lawmakers to make this happen.

Poker deserves to be seen as the unique game of skill it truly is. It is clearly distinct from thoughtless games of chance where the odds are stacked against the little guy. There’s no little guy in poker, just like there’s no little guy in America.

See also: Internet Poker Shouldn’t Be Legalized by Charmaine Yoest