News Articles

Witnesses express conflicts over Internet gambling ban

WASHINGTON (BP)–Members of Congress heard conflicting testimony recently on the nature of legislation intended to prohibit gambling on the Internet.

While most witnesses before a House of Representatives subcommittee agreed action was needed to deal with the growing problem of online wagering, they differed on some aspects of the bill, according to their written testimony.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (H.R. 3125) is designed to update a ban already in effect on betting over telephone wires. The bill targets the operators of Internet gambling enterprises, not the gamblers or the Internet service providers. The penalty for violating the bill would be as much as four years in prison and a substantial fine. The legislation does not apply to state-approved lotteries and pari-mutuel wagering, which encompasses betting on horse and dog racing, as well as jai-alai.

The Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee approved the legislation in November, less than five months after the National Gambling Impact Study Commission called in its report after a two-year study for a ban on Internet gambling.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has expressed support for a ban on online gambling.

While he has advocated only limited government regulation of the Internet, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., chief sponsor of the bill, said that does not mean “existing laws should not apply to the Internet.”

“Online gambling can result in bankruptcy, despair and moral decline just as with traditional forms of gambling, the costs of which must ultimately be borne by society,” he said.

The bill “will keep children from borrowing the family credit card, logging on to the family computer and losing thousands of dollars all before their parents get home from work,” Goodlatte said.

A young problem gambler who lost $5,000 in three weeks of gambling online called for a ban on Internet gambling. He “maxed out” his father’s credit card at that amount, said the San Diego resident, who was referred to as “John Doe” and testified while partitioned off from the news media and gallery in order to remain anonymous.

“Internet gambling is dangerous,” he said in his prepared testimony. “It’s too easy to gamble online from the comfort of your own home since all you need is a credit card, a computer and Internet access.

“I didn’t know when to stop. I am not obsessive-compulsive by any means, but the Internet combined with my passion for gambling made my behavior uncontrollable.”

Robert Minnix, associate athletic director at Florida State University, endorsed the legislation for its potential as a “strong deterrent.” He called it less than a perfect bill but appealed for the representatives not to allow the “perfect [to] become the enemy of the good.”

Two other witnesses expressed concerns about provisions in the bill.

The Department of Justice is “deeply troubled” by the proliferation of Internet gambling but also is disturbed the bill “does not really prohibit Internet gambling but rather facilitates certain types of gambling from the home and, therefore, arguably expands gambling opportunities,” said Kevin Di Gregory, deputy assistant attorney general, in written testimony. For instance, DOJ does not understand why pari-mutuel wagering should be permitted online “when other forms of gambling have rightly been prohibited,” he said.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said his organization has not taken a position on the legislation but also is concerned about exemptions that make the bill “a selective expansion as well as a limited prohibition of Internet gambling.”