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Time to Legalize Online Poker

Online gaming, a game safely and quietly played or enjoyed by tens of millions of people in the comfort of their own homes, was the victim of bad law in October.

As you know, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and his cronies somehow managed to attach Internet gaming legislation to the Safe Port Act, a bill no one was going to vote against. President Bush rushed to sign the new law, which prohibits banks and credit-card companies from dealing with Internet gaming sites.

So overnight the same people who say we are fighting for freedom in Iraq were denying Americans the right to play poker on their computers.

Well, maybe not for long. Frist has retired, and voters "retired" a lot of the other misguided souls who want to impose their will on the rest of us, not the least of whom was Jim Leach of Iowa, one of the bill's architects and an anti-gaming fanatic. It looks like millions of voters have some clout! The Democrats now control both Houses, and Bush is suddenly acting like everyone's best buddy.

The new Congress was swept in by the winds of change, and John Conyers of Michigan is expected to head the Judiciary Committee. Conyers, you may recall, has advocated a study of the effect of legalizing and regulating online gaming, and has compared the new law to Prohibition.

As any serious player knows, it is a real question whether poker can be considered gambling in the strictest sense, and in a lot of ways it is more akin to other games of skill where your decisions seriously affect your result and a player can gain a positive advantage over time than it is to other casino games. Certainly poker is closer to games of skill than it is to state-run lotteries, which are legal almost everywhere, are clearly gambling and are subject to a huge rake that is virtually unbeatable.

Believe it or not, the new law has a "carve out" for fantasy sports, horse racing and, incredibly, lotteries. Yes, you can still wager on those losing propositions online, but you can't play a hand of poker. The new Congress can show how enlightened it is by either finding a way to make this misguided legislation disappear, or by "carving out" poker in the same way.

A serious problem with bad law is that it creates contempt not only for those who made it and try to enforce it, but also for laws in general. It's time to nip this one in the bud.

Poker players have been quiet up to now because poker players are logical, and no logical person would ever think the government could get away with this, or that anyone would think poker is harmful or that anyone would lump it in with games of chance played against the house, like craps, slot machines and roulette.

But the time for being quiet is over. The window of opportunity is here, right now, with a new Congress, and in two years, a new president. What happens during the next two years could forever change the landscape of poker in the land that made the game… the U.S. It's time to stand up.

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