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ERLC restates anti-online gambling stance

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has reiterated its opposition to congressional efforts to legalize and tax Internet gambling.

ERLC President Richard Land told a House of Representatives committee by letter that it continues to support a 2006 law restricting online gambling. Regulations enforcing that law finally will go into effect June 1.

On the eve of a May 19 hearing by the Ways and Means Committee, Land urged opposition to a bill before that panel that would tax Internet gambling revenues. He also called for resistance to legislation that would legalize online gambling and authorize its regulation by the federal government.

“No amount of regulation or taxation … could make online gambling an acceptable form of business,” Land told the 41 members of the Ways and Means Committee. “Its lure can wreak havoc on marriages, cause financial ruin and lead to lamentable actions such as child neglect, divorce and suicide. At its core, online gambling’s predatory, addictive pull exacts a tremendous cost from families and communities that far outweighs any tax revenue that the government could hope to receive from its legalization and regulation.”

The bill under consideration by the Ways and Means Committee is the Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act, H.R. 4976. Its sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott, D.-Wash., has only four cosponsors.

Rep. Barney Frank, D.-Mass., is the sponsor of the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act, H.R. 2267, which would enable the Treasury Department to license and regulate Internet gambling firms. His measure has 69 cosponsors.

Frank said May 19 the Financial Services Committee, which he chairs, will take action on his bill in July, Congressional Quarterly reported.

Land wrote a letter in March urging the members of the Financial Services Committee to reject Frank’s legislation.

Frank said the 2006 ban inappropriately restricts personal freedom, according to testimony prepared for the Ways and Means Committee hearing. He said the bills McDermott and he are sponsoring would protect U.S. gamblers’ consumer rights and make sure online wagering does not benefit only the operators, who are located primarily overseas.

The 2006 law effectively bars online gambling in the United States by requiring financial institutions to block credit card and other payments to Internet wagering businesses. The ERLC was among the organizations that joined the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the major professional sports leagues for baseball, basketball, football and hockey in supporting that ban.

When President Bush signed into law in October 2006 a bill containing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the action dealt a dramatic blow to online gambling companies. A couple of firms sold their American operations for $1 apiece, and others saw their shares fall by as much as nearly 60 percent on the London Stock Exchange.

Before the current restriction on Internet gambling was enacted, opponents said the private nature of the wagering resulted in its widespread use by minors and young adults, as well as addiction problems for people of all ages. Prior to the law, Americans were expected to pay $5.9 billion, about half of the $12 billion wagered worldwide on Internet gambling, to overseas online casinos in 2006, supporters of the ban said. Online gambling sites frequently act as fronts for money laundering, drug trafficking and financing for terrorists, foes said.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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