Committee member John Conyers promoted an informative hearing to help the United States House Judiciary Committee decide about two very important bills regarding online poker in the US: Robert Wexler’s Skill Game Protection Act and Barney Frank’s Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act. We have highlighted some of the most important parts of Annie Duke’s testimony here.
The Skill Game Protection Act and the IGREA bills have recently taken a higher profile in Washington due to a visit of the EU Trade commissioner, who stressed that the US must consider reopening the gambling industry or face international trade sanctions.
The expert panel that spoke to the House Committee included – besides bracelet winner Duke – an expert on international trade laws who will address the WTO issue, an expert in problem gambling, a representative of an age-verification site, and several dissenting testifiers as well.
Annie Duke spoke as a representative of the Poker Players Alliance and in her quality of a professional poker player and a mother of four children. These are some extracts from her testimony.
Annie Duke on personal freedom:
“At its most basic level, the issue before this committee is personal freedom — the right of individual Americans to do what they want in the privacy of their homes without the intrusion of the government. From the writings of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, through their application by Jefferson and Madison, this country was among the first to embrace the idea that there should be distinct limits on the ability of the government to control or direct the private affairs of its citizens. More than any other value, America is supposed to be about freedom. Except where one's actions directly and necessarily harm another person's life, liberty or property, government in America is supposed to leave the citizenry alone. Examples of Congress straying from this principle are legion, but few are as egregious as The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, or UIGEA.”
On problem gambling:
“With respect to compulsive gambling, this committee has received expert testimony confirming what most academic studies on compulsive gambling have found: that the incidence of problem gambling in the population of adults who engage in gambling activity is less than 1%. From a similar study in the United Kingdom, we know that the availability of betting over the Internet does not increase it over time. […]Gambling, like shopping, is the subject of compulsion in a very small percentage of the population – less than one-tenth the number of people who have trouble with alcohol. In terms of the damage to society, problem gambling is orders of magnitude smaller than tobacco, alcohol, fatty foods, sugary soft drinks, and a great many other things that the government does not seek to prohibit.”
On underage gambling:
“The reality is it is very hard for a child to lose money gambling on-line — one needs to either have a credit card or a checking account to do so — cash cannot be used. The concern many point to is a child using their parent's credit card to sneak online and gamble. […]As a mother of four, however, I feel the need to make this point: if a child is stealing a parent's credit card and gambling on-line, that family probably has much more serious issues than Internet gambling. I monitor my children’s online activity, and, frankly, that is my job, not my government's. Of all the things I and other parents worry about happening to our children on line, gambling is pretty far down on the list.”
On poker as a game of skill, not chance:
“What is remarkable to me about the UIGEA is that while it allows games of pure luck, like the lottery, it prohibits a game of skill like poker. […]There is critical distinction between poker and other forms of "gambling" which is the skill level involved to succeed at the game. I cannot stress this point enough: in poker it is better to be skillful than lucky. […]From mathematics and probability to psychology and money management, numerous authors and academics have drawn analogies between poker and other endeavors that involve strategic thinking. […]Poker is a game of skill with an element of chance. But to call poker pure chance is just pure ignorance.”
On why online poker is good:
“Playing on the Internet gives millions of Americans the freedom to enjoy the game in the comfort of their homes, when it would be otherwise impossible to get to a casino, or gather others to play in person. As a mother of four young children, I don't have the liberty of being away from home every day or at night when my children return home from school. The ability to play on the Internet allows me more time with my family.[…] Each day the Poker Players Alliance receives emails from its members detailing why Internet poker is important to them. Many of these emails detail a person's physical disability and why they are unable to get to a casino, and in some cases suffer from muscular diseases which do not allow them to hold cards or poker chips and the virtual game is the only way for them to play.”