Internet Gambling Prohibition Act Set for Full House Review - Sunday 28th of May 2006

By Aaron Todd

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) was marked up and approved by the full Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and is now expected to be reviewed by the full House sometime next month.

The bill would modify the Wire Act to include Internet wagering, force U.S. banks to monitor and block financial transactions to online gambling sites, and require Internet service providers to block links to sites offering online gambling. The bill moved forward with few changes by a 25-11 vote.

Goodlatte made a small amendment to the bill to address the Justice Department's concerns that the bill would weaken the department's stance on Internet wagers on horse racing. While the amendment appears to have allayed the Justice Department's fears, it didn't change the opinion of several members of the committee who continued to assert the bill has a carveout for the horse racing industry.

H.R. 4777 Timeline

Feb. 16: Bill introduced and referred to the House Judiciary Committee
March 31: Bill referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security
April 5: Subcommittee hearing held
May 3: Subcommittee consideration and mark-up session held, bill forwarded to full committee by voice vote
May 25: Full Judiciary mark-up session held, bill forwarded to full house by 25-11 vote

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) proposed an amendment to treat legal, regulated gambling enterprises such as dog racing with the same neutral language the bill has towards the horse racing industry. Goodlatte countered that horse racing is subject to separate jurisdiction under the Interstate Horse Racing Act, and suggested that Wexler introduce similar legislation if he wanted to regulate interstate dog racing.

"This Congress should not be in the business of picking between lawful industries," Wexler said. "I offer an amendment that says 'Treat them all the same.'"

Wexler's amendment failed by a 21-15 vote, so he responded by introducing a second amendment that would strike all references to horse racing in the bill completely.

"Let's at least by honest, at least be pure," Wexler said. "Let's either shut them all down, or let all the legal businesses (take Internet wagers). I'd prefer to let the legal businesses do it, but I lost that vote. If you're against expansion of gambling, you must vote for this amendment."

Wexler, however, lost again, as Goodlatte portrayed the amendment as a "poison pill," telling the committee that it was the same amendment that Jack Abramoff pushed to have inserted when the bill failed in 2002.

The surprising vote of the day came when Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) introduced an amendment that would prohibit children from gambling on the Internet, citing a recent article in the Baltimore Sun in which horse racing officials admitted to marketing to families to get young people interested in horse racing.

Goodlatte, who has now introduced Internet gambling legislation in four sessions of Congress, was against amending the bill to include a provision banning Internet gambling by minors. The congressman stated that the debate was linked to the horse racing industry, and therefore the Judiciary Committee should "stay out of this specific issue."

While the amendment failed 17-14, several members of the committee abstained from voting until it was clear how many votes it would take to defeat the amendment, at which point some changed their abstentions to nay votes.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) proposed the final amendment of the morning, addressing a complaint he had with the legislation since its inception: the bill makes it illegal to run an Internet gambling business, but does not make it illegal for the individual to place a bet online.

"If we're going to be effective in stopping Internet gambling, we need to go after the individual bettors," Scott said.

Goodlatte once again opposed expanding the reach of his bill, saying that those decisions should be up to the individual states to decide. The amendment was defeated 30-6.

The full House is expected to review the bill sometime next month. If it passes, it will then go to the Senate for review.

In his previous life, Aaron Todd was a sports journalist by day and a poker player by night. He can now be found covering the poker beat for Casino City and making horrendously unsuccessful bluffs in his home game. Write to Aaron at aarontodd@casinocity.com.

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