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FIRST-PERSON: Putting a stop to Internet gambling

WASHINGTON (BP)–Before it wrapped up business in late September, Congress passed an important new law to make it easier to crack down on illegal Internet gambling. I believe that America needs this law because Internet gambling presents a serious and growing problem that existing laws don’t address. The new law passed because members of the pro-family movement — including a great many Southern Baptists — brought the issue to the attention of both Democrats and Republicans.

Internet gambling has grown out of control. Although four major federal laws and hundreds of state policies already make it illegal to gamble on the Internet, enforcement has proven almost impossible. Since all significant gambling websites operate outside of the United States, they lie beyond the reach of federal or state regulators.

This hurts families. Although Internet gambling did not have a prominent place on either party’s radar screen just a few years ago, its explosive growth and potential for damaging families made it a very important issue to me and many others in Congress.

In fact, online casino websites have the potential to turn every personal computer in the country into a miniature version of the Las Vegas Strip. Rigorous state enforcement means that brick and mortar casinos make a good faith effort to keep minors away from gambling. The same isn’t so for online casinos: A website can’t tell whether someone is 13 or 35. The existence of Internet gambling, moreover, makes a mockery of laws in states that forbid all gambling. Experts who testified before Congress agreed social trouble has increased as a result: People who gamble online are almost twice as likely to become problem gamblers as those who gamble in other places. Problem gambling destroys lives and families.

The new law, which President Bush will sign this month, makes it much more difficult to send money to Internet gambling sites. Internet casinos that want to accept credit cards, Internet bank transfers, or any other illegal gambling payments will find themselves blocked. It’s important that people in the pro-family movement remain vigilant to be sure that the regulations implementing this law accomplish all that Congress intended. The government also will be able to ensure that website operators don’t provide links to gambling websites. Finally, anybody who violates the Internet gambling law can have all gambling licenses revoked: Thus, any land or river-based casino operator that opens a gambling website could see all of its casinos shut down.

Some believe that Congress should have gone even further in amending and strengthening current laws, but the enforcement tools provided by this legislation are an essential step towards ensuring that we uphold the current law and punish those who break it.

We already have evidence that the law will work. Although the president has not yet signed the bill, shares in the United Kingdom’s largest online gambling companies have dropped more than 50 percent on the news of Congress’ action. At least one major online casino has decided to pull out of the U.S. market altogether and others likely will follow suit. Internet casinos, which made a fortune violating existing laws, bet against Congress taking them on. Thanks to citizens concerned about America’s families, their bets didn’t pay off.
Sen. Bill Frist, R.-Tenn., is majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

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  • Bill Frist