Poker and Joe Barton

Poker and Joe Barton

“If you don’t know who the sucker is at the poker table, it’s you.” —Poker Proverb

 Joe Barton does not believe in science. He doesn’t even believe in facts. He is a typical Tea Party Republican Congressman from Texas: Barton is proud of what he calls his “100 percent” approval rating from the Christian Coalition (actually, it is 91 percent). He’s anti-gambling.

Yet, this year he introduced a bill to legalize Internet poker. I have been accused of being cynical for pointing out that Barton seems to only have come out in favour of online poker when he discovered that he could use it to get political donations. Barton is a poker player, and by all accounts, a good one.

 It is certainly possible that he has always believed that poker was not gambling, and has always wanted it to be treated differently from casino games and lotteries.

 But his record indicates that, however he felt about Internet poker in private, he voted against it where it counted, in the House of Representatives.

 Barton voted to ban “Internet gambling by credit card” in June 2003. He voted in favor of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in late 2006, which resulted in PartyPoker and all other publicly traded operators pulling out of the American market.

 Most significantly, Barton was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2006. He not only voted in favor of the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act in early 2006, he gave up the right to use his committee to modify this anti-Internet gambling bill. If he truly wanted to carve out an exception for poker, this was his opportunity. Instead he made sure it was recorded in the Congressional Record that he and his committee were going to let the proposed ban go through without any changes.

 Barton comes off in person as a not very smart, good ol’ boy. He is best known for apologizing to BP for President Obama’s demand that the oil company pay for its disastrous Gulf oil spill. He called global warming science “absolute nonsense;” declared carbon-dioxide harmless, “It’s in your Coca- Cola;” believes wind turbines may “slow down the wind” and raise temperatures; and bragged that he puzzled Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu, by asking him why Alaska has oil.

 Barton is not stupid, at least in the conventional sense of the word. He would understand plate techtonics, how Alaska drifted north over millions of years, if he did not believe the Earth was only 6,000 years old. Like all political and social extremists, he listens only to facts that support his beliefs. But, although he calls himself an “Aggie,” knowing that graduates of Texas A&M University are often the butt of dumb jokes, Barton was the outstanding industrial engineering student for his class. He went on to earn a Master’s of Science degree from Purdue University.

 Barton was first elected to Congress in 1984, which means he has won 14 consecutive elections. He did not become chairman of the powerful House Energy Committee by being stupid. And he has made himself the key recipient of political donations from oil companies, the richest corporations in the history of the world.

 And now he is getting tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from online poker companies, their lobbying groups, and others who believe Barton when he says there’s a chance he can convince other Tea Party types to support Internet gambling.

 Maybe Barton is sincere. Or maybe all those poker folk are being outplayed by a not-so-dumb good ol’ boy. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Gaming Law: Cases and Materials and Internet Gaming Law, are available through his website,

Mark Brown
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