This November, an election in the United States will determine the entire House of Representatives (as so happens every two years). Barney Frank, a congressman from Massachusetts who has held a seat in the House since 1980, need not worry about being re-elected. He’s a lock to win his re-election; the Republicans often don’t even put someone on the ballot against him. But what Frank does stand to lose is his chairmanship over the Financial Services Committee, a position he’s held since 2006. If the Republicans take over majority control of the House, something that the Intrade Prediction Markets currently say has about a 77% chance of happening, then Frank would be out as Financial Services Committee Chairman.
Replacing Frank would be a Republican, most likely Spencer Bachus from Alabama. This story is significant for poker because Frank and Bachus hold polar-opposite viewpoints with regards to legalizing and regulating online poker.
Since taking over as committee chairman, Frank has introduced multiple bills to legalize the online poker industry in the U.S. The latest example of this is H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act, which passed the House Financial Services Committee by a vote of 41-28 a month ago.
While H.R. 2267 passing the House Financial Services Committee was great news for poker, it is ultimately only a small step in the right direction. In order for the bill to become law, it needs to pass the House, Senate, and be signed into law by the President. Most importantly, all of this needs to be done in the same legislative session. In other words, unless those three steps are completed by November, H.R. 2267 having passed the House Financial Services Committee will not really matter and this bill will not become law in 2010. And unfortunately for the poker world, those three steps will not be completed. It’s incredibly unlikely the House will even get around to taking a full vote on this bill. The only chance H.R. 2267 has of being passed into law in 2010 is if it is tacked on to a larger, must-pass bill, much like the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was in 2006 when former Republican Senator Bill Frist attached it to an unrelated port securities act. The chances of this happening again only this time to the benefit of the poker world are slim to none.
So as you can see, H.R. 2267 doesn’t stand much of a chance in this legislative session which means the results of November’s election is crucial for the bill’s chances. If the Republicans take over control of the House, and thus Bachus seizes the reigns of the House Financial Services Committee, you can all but kiss this bill’s chances goodbye for two years, if not longer. Bachus has been one of the sharpest opponents of legalizing online poker. In his opposition to H.R. 2267 last month, Bachus said, “After all of the talk of the past year of shutting the casinos down on Wall Street, why would we take steps today to open casinos in every bedroom and every dorm room on iPods, Blackberrys, iPhones, and computers?”
Where Bill Frist’s last ditch effort against online poker succeeded in 2006 just as his party was about to be shut out of power in Congress, Barney Frank’s is likely to fail. With Bachus as House Financial Services Committee Chairman, he gets to control the agenda regarding what bills the committee debates and votes on. So even if the support for something like H.R. 2267 is still there votes-wise after the November elections, as long as Bachus is committee chairman, it probably won’t matter.
There’s a lot on the line for the poker world in this November’s election. Unfortunately for us, it’s not looking good.