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Emily D. Swoboda

Goodlatte Implores US FTC to be 'Marketing Police'

4 December 2007

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, author of the U.S. Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, has requested an investigation into the advertising and marketing practices of online gambling companies operating in the United States.

Goodlatte, R-Va., and fellow Republican Congressmen Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Lamar Smith (Texas) and Randy Forbes (Va.), co-authored a letter to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, explaining the need to stop the aggressive advertising and marketing tactics employed by certain companies associated with online gambling operators, but neglected to point specifically to either the practices or the companies.

"As you are no doubt aware, aggressive marketing of online gambling is common on the Internet, in print and on television in every state today," the letter states.

The letter continues:

"It has come to our attention that some Internet gambling companies are publishing false information about the recently enacted UIGEA, including information leading U.S. citizens to believe that those online companies can still operate legally."

Keith Furlong of the Interactive Gaming Council said the letter was vague and innocuous and may be nothing more than Goodlatte catering to his constituency.

"I think probably that since he shepherded this (the UIGEA) through and became a champion of it, now he's probably got people calling his office saying: 'It's not illegal. I see the commercials . . . or my son plays online poker,' like he just murdered the Pope, or something," Furlong said.

Furlong said Goodlatte appears to be asking the FTC to be the marketing police for the whole world, something for which they probably don't have jurisdiction to address.

"If a company has a company on the Web and they market on the Web, that's intended for the whole world, no?" Furlong said. "I just don't see his point. Should the FTC be in charge of determining what you can say on the World Wide Web now? Quite frankly, you would think that a veteran representative of the Congress would know what the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission is."

The vague language of the letter raises several questions. For instance, what exactly brought this to their attention over a year after the enactment of the UIGEA? What is the false information allegedly being perpetuated by the online gambling companies? What exactly is "illegal online gambling?"

"They never did define what illegal Internet gambling was," Furlong said. "I think the government loses its case, especially in poker because the courts in the Fifth Circuit have said that online sports betting is a violation of the Wire Act, but that casino style games weren't. Have the issues been resolved with Congress's interpretation of illegal online gambling and the court's interpretation of illegal online gambling? I haven't seen any discussion of some agreement between the very differing views on that."

The UIGEA was enacted in October 2006, but it is unclear whether or not it became enforceable at that point. Some argue that it is not enforceable until the regulations are in place.

If you ask two lawyers that question you get three answers.

But Joe Kelly, professor of law at State University of New York at Buffalo, gave the safe answer.

"The chances of prosecution are much greater once the regulations go into effect," he said.

Goodlatte's office could not be reached for comment.

Click here to read a copy of the letter.

Goodlatte Implores US FTC to be 'Marketing Police' is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda