- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation yesterdayto ban interstate and offshore gambling conducted via the Internet.

For eight years, Congress has failed to do anything to regulate betting houses in the Caribbean and elsewhere from taking wagers by Americans using the Internet, as well as bets made to online casinos in states where gambling is legal from gamblers in states where it is not.

“This bill erases the stain on this Congress made by lobbyists like Jack Abramoff and his friends who mislead this body and used their influence to kill this bill six years ago,” said Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, who authored the bill. “This is the strongest bill that works to end this scourge of Internet gambling, protects our young people and our families.”

Current law prohibits gambling over telephone wires, but the growth and international reach of the Internet has made it an easily marketable loophole for sports bookies and casino banks.

The bill, which passed 317-93, amends the 1961 Interstate Wire Act to prohibit interstate gambling on the Internet through wireless and cable connections and makes it illegal for gambling businesses to accept credit cards, checks or electronic and wire transfers from customers trying to pay debts.

It also would task the Justice Department, Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve Board to establish regulations requiring banks or other designated payment companies to establish policies and procedures to block restricted gambling transactions.

Although the bill allows interstate Web gambling on horse racing and intrastate betting on lotteries and Indian casino games, it prohibits interstate Web betting on dog racing, the popular Florida sport of jai alai and lotteries.

“Supporters of this bill say that we must protect young people and people who get addicted to gambling; well, if we follow that logic, our next effort should be to ban online shopping and protect people from overspending on shopping addictions,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, Nevada Democrat.

She said the measure violated privacy rights by bringing the federal government into the homes of people with computers who choose to gamble online. Members from Nevada were particularly nervous about the bill because of its singular focus on gambling, legal in that state.

But there were others who opposed the bill, saying it will have only a minimal effect on the growth in Internet gambling with annual revenues exploding from $3 billion generated in 2001 to $12 billion this year and expected to reach $25 billion by 2010.

“It doesn’t try to prohibit Internet gambling but only tries to curtail the establishment of gambling operations, which I believe will be ineffective because of the nature of the Internet,” said Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat.

But other members said Congress has to send a message that it is no longer for sale to lobbyists.

“This institution was manipulated by outside lobbyists, so the issue today is will this House stop the manipulation. This is a test of this institution and whether it will allow outside influences to manage this place and this was our opportunity to stop it,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.

About 2,300 Internet gambling sites exist. Most of the companies are based in the Caribbean and South America. Because of the anonymous nature of Internet transactions, many teens are gambling using their parents’ credit cards or setting up their own accounts with the gambling sites.

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