Don’t Put All Your Poker Eggs in the Congressional Hearings Basket

congresslargeTomorrow, the House Subcommittee on Commerce will hold a hearing to discuss, The State of Online Gaming. The hearing will feature some interesting witnesses, ranging from the Poker Players Alliance’s John Pappas to the Las Vegas Sands Vice President of Government Relations and Community Development Andrew Abboud (read as Sheldon Adelson minion/mouthpiece). But what does either side really hope to accomplish at this hearing?

I ask you: Is there any point to these congressional hearings about online poker and online gambling? Nobody watches them; they are filled with what amounts to talking points and rhetoric; and the people asking the questions (Congress) have only the most cursory understanding of the issue they are supposed to be investigating –you know the Internet and its “tubes.” Hopefully the talk doesn’t devolve into how some of the offshore online poker providers are located on islands, because you know, those can tip over.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of getting these conversations out to the public in any way possible (even if it only reaches a small percentage of the population), so my argument isn’t that we shouldn’t bother with these hearings, it just seems we make too big a deal out of them, and artificially pump up people’s expectations.

My talking point is better than your talking point

These hearing seem to be little more than the song and dance some people go through when fighting a traffic ticket –you just hope the other side doesn’t show up! Otherwise, both sides show up, make their claims, and if a member of congress was already sensitive to the plight of either side (read as gets campaign donations) and nothing changes.

When was the last time you heard a member of Congress come out of a hearing and say, “I went in with a lot of skepticism, but after listening to the expert witnesses my opinion has changed.” Actually a better question would be; when have you ever heard a politician change their opinion unless it was politically expedient?

What should we reasonably expect?

My real hope for this hearing is that the PPA and other pro-gaming groups can increase their lobbying power by making new contacts that can be schmoozed behind the scenes. Other than that you pretty much have to sit back and cross your fingers that one of the witnesses on your side doesn’t screw up and say something so outlandish that it gets covered on cable news, while at the same time hoping the opposition does make a serious blunder.

The Who, What, Where, and Why of Tuesday’s Hearing

Here is the lowdown on the hearing, from witnesses to the members of congress who sit on the committee. The agenda is as follows:

* The current progress of online gambling at the state level

* The 2011 Justice Department opinion on the 1961 Wire Act that confines it to sports-betting

* The Barton Bill: HR 2666 The Internet Poker Freedom Act

The Witnesses

* John Pappas Executive Director Poker Players Alliance

* Andrew Abboud Vice President of Government Relations and Community Development Las Vegas Sands Corporation

* Geoff Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer American Gaming Association

* Les Bernal National Director Stop Predatory Gambling

* Kurt Eggert Professor of Law Dale E. Fowler School of Law Chapman University

* Rachel Volberg, Ph.D. Associate Professor School of Public Health and Health Sciences University of Massachusetts Amherst

Who is on the committee?

Republicans:

* Chairman: Lee Terry (NE)

* Vice Chairman: Leonard Lance (NJ)

* Marsha Blackburn (TN)

* Gregg Harper (MS)

* Brett Guthrie (KY)

* Pete Olson (TX)

* David McKinley (WV)

* Mike Pompeo (KS)

* Adam Kinzinger (IL)

* Gus Bilirakis (FL)

* Bill Johnson (OH)

* Billy Long (MO)

* Joe Barton (TX)

* Fred Upton (MI)

Democrats

* Ranking Member: Jan Schakowsky (IL)

* John Sarbanes (MD)

* Jerry McNerney (CA)

* Peter Welch (VT)

* John Yarmuth (KY)

* John D. Dingell (MI)

* Bobby L. Rush (IL)

* Jim Matheson (UT)

* John Barrow (GA)

* Donna M. Christensen (VI)

* Henry A. Waxman (CA)

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