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Internet gambling ban fails in House of Representatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected legislation that would have prohibited most gambling on the Internet.

Supporters of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act gained a healthy majority but failed to garner the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the bill under a suspension of the rules by which it was brought to the floor July 17. The vote was 245-159 in favor of the ban, leaving the bill 25 votes short of a two-thirds majority present. Thirty members did not vote.

The Senate adopted a similar measure last fall. Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., was the chief sponsor of that legislation, while Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., took the lead on the House version.

The House legislation, H.R. 3125, was designed to update a 1961 law prohibiting betting over telephone wires. It targeted the operators of Internet gambling enterprises rather than the gamblers. It also provided protection for Internet service providers that comply with notification and other requirements, including blocking access to gambling sites when informed by a court order. The penalty for violating the ban would have been as much as four years in prison and a substantial fine.

There are at least 650 gambling websites, many of those operated without regulation from foreign countries or off-shore locations, that generated $1.2 billion in revenue last year, according to a study cited by Goodlatte. Most sites offer casino-style games.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission recommended a ban on Internet wagering in its report, which was issued in June 1999 after two years of work. The commission reported online gambling is “especially enticing to youth, pathological gamblers and criminals.”

The House bill did not apply to currently permissible pari-mutuel wagering — which encompasses betting on horse racing, dog racing and jai-alai — on subscriber-based systems. It also exempted some already legal gambling activities by Native American tribes if conducted on Indian land. Fantasy sports leagues also would not have been covered by the ban.

A few conservative organizations, including Traditional Values Coalition, opposed the bill because it did not ban pari-mutuel gambling.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and others, including Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, supported the measure as a first step in dealing with online gambling.

TVC’s “concern is valid,” said the ERLC’s Barrett Duke. “My concern was that we have some kind of bill that prevents the expansion of gambling as it currently exists and, having at least put the stops on the current explosion of gambling on the Internet, we then look at ways to put an end to other [online] gambling.”

The bill was “progress in the right direction,” he said.

In a July 13 letter, Duke told Goodlatte the ERLC wanted future legislation to ban all uses of the Internet for gambling.

“Though all conservative values groups in the country did not support the House version of the bill, there was still sufficient conservative support that I do not believe it is possible to lay defeat of this bill at the feet of conservatives,” Duke said. “This bill was defeated primarily because those interested in gambling are desperate to remain free to operate at will and access every home in America with all forms of gambling.

“I believe it is possible to pass an Internet gambling prohibition bill,” Duke said, “and I hope that Congress will resume its efforts to do so immediately. Too much is at stake, too many lives are at risk, too many families and children are jeopardized to allow gambling free rein over the Internet.”

Not only some pro-gambling forces opposed the legislation, but foes of any Internet regulation did as well.

The bill received the endorsement of such organizations as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Football League and the National Association of Attorneys General.

The White House, however, opposed the House bill, citing the exemption for pari-mutuel betting as one of the reasons, The Washington Post reported.