Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What We’re Hearing About the Hearing

House Hearing Scheduled, then PostponedA hearing to consider Barney Frank’s two bills -- H.R. 2266, the Reasonable Prudence in Regulation Act & H.R. 2267, Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act -- had been scheduled for this Friday, April 16. The meeting of the House Financial Services Committee (which Frank chairs) was announced late last week, but soon after was postponed with no makeup date scheduled.

Both of those bills were proposed by Frank (D-MA) last spring. H.R. 2266 is a very brief bill that simply seeks to delay compliance with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 until December 1, 2010. That one currently has 55 co-sponsors (all but five of whom are Democrats). H.R. 2267 is a much more comprehensive bill proposing the licensing and regulation of online gambling in the United States -- a version of Frank’s earlier, failed IGREA from the previous Congress. H.R. 2267 currently has 66 co-sponsors (all but four Democrats).

The Poker Players Alliance is saying a new date for the hearing should be announced soon, although whenever the committee does get together, it doesn’t appear there will be any debate or “mark-up” of the two bills at that time. Rather, the primary purpose of the hearing looks to be to invite the feds (i.e., representatives of the Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury) to come and address the situation in broader terms -- that is, to discuss “Governmental Perspectives” on the issue of online gambling in the United States (as the scheduled hearing had been titled).

Two years ago there was a hearing in which two such representatives -- Louise Roseman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and Valerie Abend of the Department of Treasury -- came to answer questions about the feasibility of enforcing the UIGEA. I wrote a long summary of that hearing (from early April 2008) here, titled “UIGEA Regs: Burden without Benefit? Without a Doubt.

That meeting came at a time when the regulations for the UIGEA were still being worked out, and Roseman and Abend both made it clear that those trying to put together the regulations were finding it quite difficult thanks to the vague nature of the UIGEA as it is written. Following that meeting, it appeared the UIGEA might well have finally been sunk under the weight of its own inconsistencies and impracticality. But the feds pushed on, and by the end of the year had come up with the regulations which were then finalized (in November 2008).

Technically speaking, the UIGEA went into effect on January 19, 2009 -- the last full day of George W. Bush’s presidency -- though compliance was not made mandatory until December 1, 2009. In other words, banks and financial institutions can if they wish go ahead and try to enforce the UIGEA now and block transactions between their customers and online gambling sites, although they aren’t required to do so. It was during the last week of November 2009 that the feds decided to push forward that mandatory compliance date to June 1, 2010, having been encouraged to allow further discussion of the UIGEA, Frank’s proposed bills, and perhaps other possible avenues to handling the issue of online gambling in the U.S.

A hearing followed soon thereafter during the first week of December, and once again it appeared there was some genuine momentum gathering to stop the UIGEA from finally being enforced. But that momentum died down quickly, and we find ourselves now just a month-and-a-half away from the deadline.

My sense is that online poker players in the U.S. have already come to accept that the UIGEA is going to go into effect on June 1. Among those who pay any mind to it, that is. A lot of those who play aren’t really fretting over the UIGEA too greatly, believing that even with the law in place there will always be another way to get funds on and off online poker sites.

Having already decided the UIGEA is a done deal, it becomes difficult to get too excited over the possibility of another House hearing. Indeed, my sense perusing forums, blogs, and other sources of online poker talk is that few are paying much mind to any of these legal machinations, including the craziness happening here and there on the state level (e.g., Kentucky suing Full Tilt Poker over the rake).

Rather, as poker players have always tended to do, we play on. The game requires too much of our mental capacity for us to spare any on things we cannot control, anyway. In other words, it seems like news of these hearings being scheduled and/or postponed mostly fall on deaf ears.

Then again, I have a feeling that as we get closer to June 1 this here legislative chatter is probably going to get a bit louder. Indeed, it might well become impossible not to start listening.

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