WASHINGTON (BP) — The effort to legalize online poker in this session of Congress is dead, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced.
The Democratic senator from Nevada said Dec. 14 he had given up on his own bill with barely two weeks left in the 112th Congress. “[W]e have simply run out of time in this legislative calendar,” Reid said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Reid said he was “disappointed” but added that he and Sen. Dean Heller, R.-Nev., “remain committed to this issue and it will be a priority for us in the new Congress.”
Gambling opponents applauded Reid’s announcement.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land called Reid’s announcement “good news for America’s families.”
“[They] bear the emotional and financial brunt when a family member becomes addicted to gambling. Internet gambling is a scourge that helps feed the fastest-growing addiction in the United States,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “For government to make such destructive behavior easier in order to gain its financial cut of this activity reduces the government to the role of a bookie and disgraces the legitimate reasons God gave us government in the first place.”
It had appeared that an Internet poker bill drafted by Reid, along with conservative Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., might gain Senate passage before Congress adjourned for the year. Though the proposal never was introduced, opponents had expressed concern it might gain Senate approval as part of must-pass legislation. Heller and Kyl had said there was enough Republican support to gain Senate passage.
Land had urged Kyl to withdraw his support for the bill. In a Dec. 5 letter, Land told Kyl the legislation would not only provide “government sanction” for a form of gambling but would establish “a regulatory mechanism that is certain to be used to introduce other forms of Internet gambling in the future.”
After Reid announced the bill’s demise, Land commended “all those who joined the ERLC in opposing this malicious legislation.”
The National Association of Evangelicals and Focus on the Family spoke against the legislation, but so did the directors of state lotteries. The National Governors Association also opposed the bill, the Review-Journal reported.
While the Reid-Kyl proposal reportedly would have outlawed most online gambling other than poker, foes said it would have weakened a 2006 federal law designed to bar most Internet gambling.
The 2006 measure, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, requires financial institutions to block credit card and other payments to online wagering businesses, which primarily are located overseas. Gambling opponents, with the agreement of the U.S. Justice Department at the time, argued a 1961 law that prohibited wagering over telephone wires also barred Internet wagering.
Supporters of online gambling gained impetus for their legalization efforts when a late 2011 opinion by the Justice Department contended the 2006 law applies only to sports betting. Georgia and Illinois are now selling lottery draw tickets on the Internet, and other state legislatures are considering bills to legalize online gambling, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Kyl, who supported the 2006 law, contended the new legislation would have helped limit the spread of gambling, according to The Journal.
Foes of his bill disagreed.
“This is being disguised as a protective bill, if you will, that would limit gambling, but in fact … this is just a precursor bill” to opening the Internet to casino gambling a few years from now, said Chad Hills, Focus on the Family’s gambling analyst.
State lottery directors charged the proposal would have aided Nevada and the casinos in Reid’s home state. Only Nevada is set up to license Internet poker operators, a state lottery defender told the Review-Journal. The state directors also argued federal legislation is unneeded, since their lotteries are able to regulate Internet gambling.
Stop Predatory Gambling (SPG), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that combats government partnerships with gambling, said legalizing online gambling would result in Facebook “casinos” that “would have a devastating impact on America’s children under 18 and deeply worsen the nation’s epidemic of gambling addiction.”
“Legalizing Facebook casinos represents the biggest expansion of casino gambling in history, opening a Las Vegas casino in every home, office, dorm room and smart phone in America, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” according to SPG.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).