How a Bill May or May Not Become a Law, Part 4
Fishing for co-sponsors

by , Sep 27, 2007 | 5:43 pm

Poker and Pete Sessions now go hand-in-hand as the six-term Republican signs on to champion poker-player interests.

Congress is bucking up for a new legislative season — in a presidential election year, no less — and our representatives have to make calculated principled educated decisions about which bills to stand behind. On Monday, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) signed on to cosponsor HR 2610, aka the Wexler bill or Skill Game Protection Act, which would effectively remove poker (along with bridge, chess, backgammon, and mah jongg) from the aegis of the UIGEA.

Sessions is the second Republican to align himself with this bill, and he promises to lend more than just his signature to the poker cause. “If we decide to get in this thing, it’s not because we’re [just] gonna use my name,” Sessions explained, “we’re doin’ it to get it done. Otherwise it’s like a warm bucket of spit — it’s no good.”

* * * * * * *

Before saying yea or nay, he wanted to hear more about the issues behind the legislation from the people it affects. So with the help of Lavigne in Austin, a small group of concerned constituents — including pros Clonie Gowen and Robert Williamson — joined lobbyists from the Poker Players Alliance in Sessions’ Dallas office last month for a roundtable discussion about this bill and online poker in general.

Congressman Pete Sessions (far left, pictorially, not politically) listens to PPA executive director John Pappas, addiction specialist Dr. John Talmadge, DC lobbyist Chris Giblin, and poker pro Clonie Gowen as they try to explain the bipartisan concept of fish.

This was a real opportunity to inform an influential congressman in greater detail about the horrors impact of the UIGEA and plea for emergency humanitarian aid a federal bailout sensible government intervention. It also provided a privileged glimpse into how our system really works and a chance to see the new leadership of the PPA in action … But yeesh, 9 am is a little early, no?!?

I woke up when the phone rang at 8:15. “Fullck!” — never a good way to start your day when that’s the first thing out of your mouth. Sent the call to voicemail, jumped in the shower, speed-ironed a shirt, scrapped my plans for a morning trip to Kinko’s and Starbucks, and got in the car at 8:50, when Clonie called again:

“Hi Dan, I’m probably going to be a little bit late. I’m not far but traffic’s pretty bad …”

“Me too. I’m just leaving. Hold on, that’s Lavigne on the other line. I’ll let him know.”

“Yo dude, are you there? I almost am. Do you know what building it’s in?”

“I was hoping you did. Hold on, that’s Shane on the other line …”

“Hey Dan, Shane. I’m really sorry but I’m going to be just a few minutes late. Do you know where I’m supposed to go?”


“Robert called while you were gone. He just woke up and is going to be there in about 30 minutes. I’m almost there. How do we get to the buiding?”

Text from Chris Giblin at 9:01 am: Where are you guys?

Most of us would arrive just a few minutes past the hour, a little out of breath, to be welcomed by a staffer who informed us that Pete Sessions was really sorry, but he was running a few minutes late. “He apologizes and hopes you will stick around and wait for him. He should be here soon.”

Awesome — do you guys have any coffee, and a copy machine?

August 30, 2007

Republican Pete Sessions meets with Dallas poker players, Texas poker politicos, and PPA representatives to discuss the Skill Game Protection Act (HR 2610). Hand-shaking, butt-kissing, and sundry politicking ensues.
1 hour, 11 minutes*

[audio: sessions-ppa.mp3]

*NOTE: This audio is pretty damn boring, at least for the first 25 minutes. But after we cut through the small-talk, it actually turns into some rather fascinating (to pokerwonks and poli-dorks) discussion of poker issues and strategy for political resolution.

As we waited in the conference room — Sessions’ district director chatted with Lavigne and the lobbyists about what’s really at stake with this bill, it’s political viability, what reservations Sessions may or may not have, and more generally about the current electoral climate in Washington DC.

Text from Shane, 9:13 am: So how many of these guys are full of shit?

[Coffee spills … on copies.]

I’d have the table cleaned up just in time for Sessions’ arrival. Williamson would follow a few minutes later. We started off the meeting going around the table for introductions. The professional political guys had lots of compliments on his new haircut as Shane and I dropped references to our alumni status at St. Mark’s, where Sessions’ son is a senior. That led to talk of high school sports (“Did you wrestle?” Pete asked) and then an Aggie joke, and from there Shane, the congressman and I would discover we were all fraternity brothers. There was something reassuring upon learning that we all at one point in our lives had drunk-and-belligerently chanted, “Pi Kappa Alpha, rah rah rah …”

Eventually we’d get to the real matters at hand, and Sessions appeared to be listening. Robert Williamson seemed plenty persuasive in convincing his old friend of the skill component in poker. (The two have known each other for nearly a decade; Williamson has been politically active since his days with the Angelo State University College Republicans.) Meanwhile, Clonie shed light on the inner workings of online poker sites. Lobbyist Chris Giblin explained that this bill was simply a “technical correction” — seeking the same classification for poker as online horse racing, fantasy sports, and state lotteries. PPA Executive Director John Pappas reminded Sessions that it also provided for protections and safeguards that were left out of the hastily considered UIGEA.

(Williamson would also let it slip out that he always plays as a woman online. “MissLuLu” on Full Tilt.)

Pat the Tablemaker was there to give a sense of the the mom-and-pop industry that sprung up around poker. Sessions motions his disapproval of the citizenry playing on substandard felt.

Mike Lavigne (seat 5) bites his lip being surrounded by so many Republicans helps bring together state and federal efforts as a state director for the PPA. “Gentle Shane” Keller (to his left) is a registered District 32 voter representing Batface special interests.

Text from Shane at 9:50 am: Is someone going to give Sessions a bj or what?

Sessions seemed particularly intrigued by the insights of recreational player (and Pokerati commentor) DocJohn, known as Dr. John Talmadge in the non-poker world. An addiction specialist at UT Southwestern, he happened to know a thing or two about “cheese” — one of Sessions’ pet issues — which gave us extra credibility upon assuring the congressman that poker is very different from heroin.

After a little more than an hour, the meeting broke up, with all of us feeling at least semi-caffeinated … “You’re giving me talking points, whether y’all know it or not, as I meet with members,” Sessions said. He then thanked the assembly of good poker citizens for their input and time and asked them to have their pictures taken with him in front of an American flag for the congressional scrapbook.

“Really, thanks for coming,” Sessions said as he and I shook hands farewell. “I think we can get this done.” Over his shoulder, Robert Williamson gave a wink and a thumbs-up as I walked out the door and he stayed behind, presumably for some post-game wrap-up with his old political pal.

The guy in the orange shirt is known as “Crazy Lance.”

Giblin and Pappas head back to Washington DC, where they will get official word in a few weeks that Sessions is indeed on board with the Skill Game Protection Act … and they can celebrate a small victory on the political poker road.

7 Comments to “How a Bill May or May Not Become a Law, Part 4
Fishing for co-sponsors

  1. Lavigne in Austin

    Thanks for taking an active role in getting this done, Dan. Chalk one up to the good guys!

  2. California Jen

    Congrats on being part of a job well done!

    I imagine you downplayed your own role in this a bit. All of you worked together to make this happen. You may have a future in lobbying. Politicarati? (I know, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…)

  3. DanM

    I just wanted to make free copies. We were in a public office, after all.

  4. Willie

    Hooray for poker! Good to see that some Congress members are looking at Mr. Frist’s unhonorable action as a bad one and are acting to fix its mistakes.

    Also, Dan, you were a Pike?
    I feel that I must hate you, even though my fraternity isn’t a rival of yours.
    In fact, my fraternity is kinda like the girl I lost my virginity too.
    She’s from Minnesota…
    No, you don’t know her…
    Yes, of course she’s real. Why wouldn’t she be? Stop looking at me like that. I’M TELLING THE TRUTH, HONEST!

  5. 85nutz

    Good job guys, it seems like you recruited from my old stomping grounds, I recognized everybody and wish I could have been a part. If I can do anything here in Vegas let me know, I’d love to help any way I can.

  6. DanM

    NOTE: Follow-up here as more congresspeople follow Sessions’ lead.

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