Two Glaring Holes in Barton's Poker Freedom Act
The Poker Freedom Act was filed today by US Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) and is the latest attempt to legalize online poker in the United States. The bill covers most bases in regards to legalizing the game but there are a couple of glaring holes in this bill that need to be either clarified or closed to prevent controversy.
Small Casinos May Get Shut Out Via Current Definitions
John Mehaffey broke down the Barton bill over on LegalPokerSites.com and made an interesting point regarding what qualifies as a "Qualified Card Room."
The definition states that an establishment must provide at least 175 tables in one location that are setup to take bets on poker. Most card rooms in the United States fall well short of this requirement, that is if you are looking at it strictly as cash game tables.
My question is whether this 175 table requirement is strictly for tables taking a drop or can tournament tables be included on this. Technically, players make bets and wages on poker in tournaments. While they are not putting up money each hand, their buy-in is at stake every hand they play. This might be a fine splitting of a legal hair, it would be a way to "pad the numbers."
If tournament tables do not count, then a lot of smaller casinos will be effectively shut out of the Barton bill and others will have to do some creative expansion in order to meet the qualifications. Dozens of $1-$2 NL or $2-$4 Limit Hold'em tables coming soon to a casino near you.
PokerStars and Full Tilt Have To Wait - Or Do They?
The Barton bill states that any online poker operator that has been found in felony violation of Federal or State law would not be able to apply for a license for at least 5 years, and this includes companies who bought software of other companies that were convicted.
Here is where things get interesting. If you look closer at the bill, PokerStars and Full Tilt by definition would not qualify as a licensee and would rather serve as a significant provider. This is because only card rooms and casinos will be allowed to apply for a license under the Barton bill.
Furthermore, all PokerStars or Full Tilt would need is a "letter of suitability" from a casino in order to serve as a service provider for a casino.
Also, for those thinking that PokerStars going the route of buying a casino would get them quicker entry into the US market, that won't work in the Barton bill as any casino applying for a license must operate the casino for 5 years prior.
For those thinking that either company would be excluded from a legalized market, the bill in its current form would appear to fail to exclude those companies. Full Tilt reentering the market, especially if it were to happen prior to US players being repaid, would be a major source of controversy and possibly even a sticking point on the bill getting passed.
The 102 page bill is definitely one of the more comprehensive bills that we have seen thus far but it remains to be seen whether it will get the traction needed to even be brought to a vote. In its current form, I would say that it is about 30% to get to a vote.