New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez has submitted an act to the US Senate that would definitively classify poker, bridge and mah-jong as a game of skill and set up the framework needed to license and regulate online providers. The bill specifically deals with the online market, defining “Internet skill game” as one “that uses simulated cards, dice or tiles in which success is predominantly determined by the skill of the players”. The proposal, known as SB 3616, marks the first time any internet gambling legislation has not originated within the House of Representatives.

The bill outlines detailed licensing requirements that would be governed by the Secretary of the Treasury – gaming websites would need to apply to the Secretary in order to obtain a license. The Secretary would be responsible for ongoing monitoring to ensure that licensed sites remained in compliance with all the rules and that the games stay fair for the players. The bill does give individual states and Indian nations the right to determine if they want to allow their citizens to access the federally regulated websites – in effect, returning the legalization of online gambling to the state governments as it was before UIGEA.

Companies applying for a federal license would be put under intense scrutiny including all primary owners, financial holdings and corporate structure. All chief executives would have to pass a strict background check as well as investigation into the companies’ history of following the law in foreign countries. Ongoing safeguards will need to be in place to guarantee privacy and security for players as well as that all taxes are reported and collected.

The bill is being supported by the Poker Player’s Alliance which worked with the senator and his staff with drafting the new law. The grass roots poker advocacy group has over a million members and has been lobbying for changes constantly in the three years since UIGEA was passed. Statements were issued in support of the bill by both the chairman and the executive director of the PPA.

“This action by Senator Menendez is yet another example that prohibitions on Internet gambling, and specifically poker, will not work to protect consumers,” former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, now the chairman of the Poker Players Alliance, said.

“The PPA has long advocated for thoughtful and effective licensing and regulation of online poker as a means to protect vulnerable communities, such as children and compulsive gamblers, and provide appropriate controls to thwart consumer fraud and abuse,” D’Amato said. “Senator Menendez’ legislation is the right vehicle to achieve those goals.”

“This is really a bill that poker players could love. It’s written to directly help the online poker playing community to establish licensed and regulated poker in the U.S.,” said executive director of the Poker players Alliance, John Pappas. “We believe that it is a great marker for the next Congress and the new administration.”

In order for this bill to become US law, both the Senate and the House of Representatives will need to agree to the legislation before the current session ends on Jan. 3, 2009.