Bill to Lift Internet Gambling Due this Week

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Democratic Rep. Barney Frank plans to introduce a new bill this week to overturn the current ban on Internet gambling.

The three-year-old Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), put into place by the Bush administration, forbids banks and credit card companies to do business with overseas-based online casinos.

As a result, many European and other Internet gambling operations were shut off from U.S. Web gamblers. Additionally, some representatives of those companies were even arrested in the U.S. and charged with illicit activities, some cases still pending reports, per Yahoo! News.

The ban was inserted into a port security bill at the time and Frank, current Chairman of the House of Representatives Financial Services, has long opposed it, though met with resistance to overturn the bill because of the then-Republican majority in Congress. 

That overturn looks quite possible now, factoring in a Democratically controlled Congress and the current state of the economy.  Opening up business channels for Web gambling could generate federal revenue through taxes and fees.

Joe Brennan Jr., chairman of the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association, of told the outlook for gambling concerns hasn't looked this positive in some time.

"It's encouraging for the Internet gaming industry to have a champion in Congressman Frank," Brennan said. "He's an intellectual and political heavyweight who understands that this is an opportunity to affirm civil liberties for Americans using the Internet while contributing badly needed revenue to the federal budget. We hope others in Congress will follow his lead."

Frank has stated adults should have the right to choose their leisure entertainment and hobbies as they wish, including the right to gamble online, which should not be determined by a government body, he said.

Other supporters include Inc., which launched its Casino Wagering Software at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas this January.

"When President Clinton was in office, our licensed Internet casino was called one of the world’s largest by ABC News' ‘Nightline.’ We are now in a position of a Democratic override," said Peter Michaels, president and CEO of Hop-On in a press release. "The outcome is very hopeful that Barney Frank will get this law overturned. As a result, allowing us the platform to keep our online gambling here in the United States, in combination with our wagering software making it compatible for bettors to experience mobile gaming with state regulations and regulatory structure, it inevitably diminishes doubts in our consumers’ minds as to their protection."

As the Telegraph newspaper in Britain notes, Frank's proposal could reverse the decline of UK online gaming firms, which lost billions of pounds in market value when the current ban was enacted in 2006.

Not all, however, are in favor of lifting the ban. Opponents claim it will foster irresponsible Web gambling, as bad as if someone took their life savings and wagered it in Las Vegas.

One of those critics is University of Illinois professor of business and legal policy John W. Kindt, who suggests the rewards of new tax dollars aren't worth it, claiming gambling addiction would rise.  

"The revenue they would get is miniscule compared to the devastation it would bring to financial systems, stock markets, national security and people’s lives,” said Kindt in an issued statement. "Online gambling is called the crack cocaine of creating new addicted gamblers. It places gambling at every school desk, every work desk and in every living room. Does Barney Frank really want to entice people to click their mouse and lose their house?”

Supporters have countered that Internet gambling in the U.S. would be extremely regulated and only available, as in casinos all over the country, to adults of age, not minors.

Meanwhile, the state of Minnesota recently announced a move to cut-off Web gambling, PC Magazine reported. Last week, the state's Department of Public Safety sent a letter to 11 telephone and Internet service providers asking them to block access to 200 gambling websites and their phone numbers because they violate a law called the Wire Act, dating back to 1961.

Sites on the Minnesota blacklist included Online Casino Dollar, Party Gaming and Atlantic Vegas Casinos.

The non-profit Poker Players Alliance blasted the state agency, saying in a statement, "We see headlines like this coming from communist China, but never expect that it could happen here in Minnesota. This is about keeping the Internet free of censorship and ensuring that law-abiding citizens can enjoy a game of Texas Hold 'Em in the comfort of their own homes, whether it's online or with a group of friends."

Gambling concerns and the adult industry have found common ground in the issues. Just earlier this year, Internet gambling operations looked to adult's battle over the broad and vague Child Online Protection Act in their campaign against Web gambling bans.

As IMEGA'S Brennan told in January, "Both laws [UIGEA and COPA] specifically target activities and behavior on the Internet. And only for the reason that it is on the Internet," he said. "You would not imagine laws being written attacking civil liberties in the offline world in a similar matter.”