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Frank Talk - The Representative From Massachusetts Is Primed To Go Off, Regarding The UIGEA...By Nelson Lardner

Having made his utter contempt for the legislation in question crystal-clear, early and often, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank has broadly signaled his intention to introduce legislation designed to disarm the broadly-despised Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

This long-awaited opening salvo is expected to be delivered on the floor of the House in short order. Chairman of the House Financial Services committee, Frank has attracted quite the rooting section during his extended, sustained public approach to this juncture, and one hopes that his first push-comes-to-shove formal statements on this matter come close to fulfilling the expections of those who have waited this long while hoping for (perhaps, too) much.

The nation's online poker players have been by far the most assertive in terms of seeking specific relief from the onerous money-transfer difficulties that have resulted, in the wake of banks' limited implementations, thus far . . . in the wake of the passage of the Ports Security bill which carried the UIGEA as a nefarious rider along for the ride, when passed under cover of darkness. U. S. online sports players, far smaller in numbers than even the online-casino-game aficionados, have the most to lose if the UIGEA is finally fitted with sharp fangs and iron cuffs when final structural strictures are introduced and formalized later this spring. Their primary options are (a) wagering among themselves, or (b) being driven into the arms of the street-corner, cigar-store, unlisted-phone-number operatives, as prohibition (with all of its ugly social and economic side effects) is re-enacted.

Just prior to his signing of the Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin (highly-placed in Lardner's American Statesman Parthenon) pointedly noted: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately". While online-gaming freedom is not as important in the broad historical scheme of things as telling the Brits to bugger off, it's important to present a united front.

Some prominent members of the poker world have made ludicrous comments along the lines of how sports betting is not a game of skill. I forgive them, in their tunnel-visioned zeal, but they need to get with the program. Poker is clearly a skillful application of gaming-psychology lessons, when played properly. Sports betting, like horse handicapping, is a studied amalgamation of learned reasoning skills, when approached judiciously. Conducted correctly, sports betting is a deeper skill, but to label poker a game of sheer luck is absurd.

Up to this point, Rep. Frank has been closemouthed about the specifics of the bill he's about to put forward. I've been concerned about his relative silence about sports betting, in contrast to public mentions he's made regarding poker and casino games. But what hints I've been able to garner lead to the belief that a blanket repeal try is in the early gameplan, at least as a starting point. Not holding my breath in teams of the success of that prospect, given congress' historical (and regrettably self-reverential) reluctance to turn on a dime. But smarter people than I are of the belief that there's room to make some meaningful tweaks within the original UIGEA structure, and look forward to the possibilities.

One thing on which you can bet your bippy: Frank's proposal will feature a federal tax structure related to internet gaming. This is a sure thing, the devil will be in the details, and said presented details will serve as an on-paper refendum of Frank's knowledge of the realities of the business. Sports betting in Nevada is subject to a 0.25% Federal tax, on volume. Anything much more grasping than that with regards to casino games or poker will see many putting their pom-poms down, as any government-enforced program which results in competitively-disadvantaged-percentage games will play right into the hands of the illegals, and then it's Prohibition II, how do you do.

We'll all be a lot smarter by the weekend, and as in so many things, time is of the essence, and the clock's running. The nation's banks do NOT want to be in the position of shouldering the entire time-cost, expense and eventual full responsibility of enforcing the evangelical fantasy that is UIGEA, and the law currently on the books calls for precisely that - by the end of July. That's a midsummer night's nightmare for the country's banking business, and an important byproduct of Frank's basic thrust is to attempt to derail that burden. You know Sen. Jon Kyl and his cronies will be waiting at the crossroads, looking to defend last fall's dirty work. The Senate battle on any conceivable bill will be a battle royal, and while Kyl and his handmaidens are outnumbered, now, outright repeal remains a tough trick to turn. Frank is looking to advance the conversation, while striking a blow for individuals' private rights of choice and conduct in the process. Just wish for something resembling a happy ending.

Nelson Lardner

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