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Poker Players All-In on Joe Barton Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

The Poker Players Alliance, which claims 1.2 million members, spent $1.4 million lobbying the federal government on the Barton bill and other issues last year. Its PokerPAC doled out about $175,000 to federal candidates during the 2010 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org.

The American Gaming Association, which represents commercial casino operators, spent $2.2 million lobbying the federal government in 2011. Though the association was officially neutral on online gaming legislation, it conducted more than 200 private meetings with at least 125 lawmakers and their staffers and convened a working group to “ratify a position in favor of federal legislation that calls for a legal, licensed and regulated U.S. online poker market,” according to its annual report.

“What we believe should happen is that there should be a federal piece of legislation that also preserves states’ rights,” association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf said.

Several of the association’s member companies, including MGM and Caesar’s, also established a grass-roots organization called Fair Play USA last August that brings nontraditional voices — local law enforcement, policy experts and consumer advocates — into the debate.

Gaming interests including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the American Greyhound Track Operators Association have retained lobbyists to work on poker issues. The National Indian Gaming Association and the Seminole Tribe of Florida have also retained Hill representatives to preserve their stakes. Americans for Tax Reform and the Christian Coalition of America are among the nongaming groups that have sent lobbyists to Capitol Hill.

Gus Voelzel, an online poker player and attorney in Austin, Texas, when the poker sites were shut down, has spent months emailing lawmakers to back federal regulation. In February, he moved to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, so he can access sites that remain restricted in the United States.

“Many European nations were able to complete the shutdown and restart the process in a matter of months, and yet here we are, nearly a year later, showing little to no sign of progress, ” Voelzel said. “I wonder how many Mother’s Days I’m going to miss while my representatives figure out the online poker issue.”

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