Standing by my right to play poker

Former Senator Alfonse D’Amato argues that the Justice Department’s belief that poker is a game of chance mischaracterizes the game. “The best player at the table will come out on top almost all of the time; any poker player would tell you the same” says D’Amato. Making Internet poker illegal is not only an affront to our rights but a missed opportunity to collect sorely needed tax revenue.

Alfonse D'Amato Poker
Senator D'Amato is "All-In"

In the interest of full disclosure, I serve as Chairman of the Poker Player’s Alliance, a nonprofit and very enthusiastic group of online and regular poker players who’ve joined together to protect our right to play the game we love.

On Friday April 15th, now deemed “Black Friday” by my fellow poker players, the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder violated our rights by indicting 11 of the top executives at three of the largest Internet poker sites.  The 52-page unsealed indictment accused the executives of bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling operations.

Don’t be fooled. Playing poker online is already legal. This indictment is part of the Justice Department’s ongoing mission to make playing poker in the privacy of your own home on the Internet illegal.

Forget about the war on terror and other important issues that the Justice Department should be focused on. They’ve made violating your right to privacy a top priority.

As a result of the indictments, the three sites were forced to cease all U.S. operations, their domain names were seized, and the 10 million Americans who use these sites are no longer allowed to login. The Justice Department even attempted to block players’ access to the funds they had deposited in their accounts.  Even after rescinding that decision and allowing players to withdraw their money, the sites are still frozen, leaving billions tied up in accounts.

The actions of the Justice Department are nothing more than deliberate assaults on the Internet poker community. 

Like millions of other Americans, for decades I have enjoyed playing poker.  I consider myself to be an experienced and accomplished player.  I recognize when I have a player overmatched, when another player is bluffing, or if I should bluff myself.  Of course there are those times when a hand I believe I can’t lose gets taken down and I wallow in my own self-pity.

However, that is part of the thrill of the game, a game which has attracted millions of players around the world and has remained one of America’s oldest and most beloved pastimes. 

The laws surrounding Internet poker are extremely unclear, and in many instances the game receives a bad rap as being illegal or “games that criminals play.”

However, Internet poker does not breach any federal law or the laws of most states.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 1961 Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1084 only applies to sports betting, not poker.  In the recent indictments, the Justice Department cites the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).  This law, which passed in 2006, makes it a federal offense for a gambling business to “knowingly accept” payments “in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling.”

There is one major problem that the authors of that law forgot to clarify. What exactly does “unlawful internet gambling” mean?  With millions of Americans playing online poker and billions of dollars at stake, you would think that Congress would create a more ambiguous law, but alas they did not.

Most federal and state laws define gambling, like horse racing for example, as games of chance. But poker is a game of skill, where a player’s success is predominantly determined by that player’s skill. The best player at the table will come out on top almost all of the time; any poker player would tell you the same. For the Justice Department to continue to insist that Internet poker is a game of chance defies logic and the current law.

And so even though they are trying to bully and persecute the Internet poker community, they will not be able to present a viable case in court!

Last year, the three sites currently in limbo racked in approximately $16 billion in wages. This is an incredible amount of revenue and it seems to me that the Justice Department would be foolish not to consider increasing its efforts to improve Internet security and devise a system where profits generated or lost could be taxed by the federal government. Last time I checked, we could certainly use the tax revenue!

Rather than disenfranchising millions of Americans and depriving players of their basic rights, our government should be focused on regulation.  We all deserve a winning hand!

Alfonse D'Amato
Senator D'Amato's likeness when he was inducted in the Long Island Press Power List Hall of Fame