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Emily D. Swoboda

Q & A: Shelley Berkley

8 May 2007

Exactly one week after Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., on Thursday introduced a bill proposing a one-year study on Internet gambling conducted by the National Academy of Sciences. The Internet Gambling Study Act would, among other things, assess the impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and analyze the recent rulings on Internet gambling by the World Trade Organization.

"You can pass any law you want, and prohibition leaps to mind. But if the public doesn't agree with the government that passes the law and attempts to enforce it, they're going to do what they want anyway."

Berkley and her congressional counterpart, Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., introduced a similar bill in 2006, but it died in session.

Berkley sat down with IGN to discuss the bill and shared some of her opinions about the current state of policymaking.

IGN: On this bill you are listed as the chief sponsor, just as you were listed as the primary co-sponsor on last year's Internet Gambling Study Commission Act, authored by Jon Porter. Did you and Congressman Porter work together on this bill as you did on last year's bill?

Shelley Berkley: My staff wrote the bill last year that Jon introduced. But we made a political decision since he (Porter) was in the majority party at the time it would have a better chance of passing if he was the primary sponsor. But it was my staff that originally drafted the legislation last year.

IGN: So, is that the case with this bill, but you are introducing it because you are in the majority party now?

Berkley: Well, I drafted it this year and introduced it.

IGN: Why did you switch directions from a bipartisan study commission to having the National Academy of Sciences conduct the study?

Berkley: We were able to refine the legislation this year and thought it would have greater impact if the study was conducted by an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, rather than within the congressional framework where there was potential for political mischief. So, we wanted to take it out of the realm of politics and put it into the realm of sound science.

IGN: Have you been working on this version of the bill since last year?

Berkley: No. When we decided we were going to reintroduce it a number of months ago we took a look at the draft that was introduced last year and improved it, and thought it was ready to be introduced when we did.

IGN: There are quite a few differences between the Internet Gambling Study Commission Act and the Internet Gambling Study Act. Can you talk about some of those differences and how you arrived at some of the points you make in this new bill?

Berkley: (One) difference is the shortening of the time. Originally, as anything with Congress, it takes forever and a day to get anything accomplished. So, we had an 18-month study. It occurred to me that there is no reason why this study would take more than 12 months, and it could possibly take less than that. So, we shortened the time that the report had to be issued from 18 months down to 12.

One of the things you would like this study to accomplish is an analysis of the recent rulings on Internet gambling by the World Trade Organization. But the U.S. Trade Representative announced on Friday that it intends to effectively withdraw gambling from its commitments to the General Agreement on Trade in Services. What would researchers be looking for exactly and how will the new development affect that proposal?

I think the new development is a joke. The administration changing the rules in the middle of the game because they don't like the game, to me that is ludicrous, and, quite frankly, insulting to the other members of the World Trade Organization. So, I'm going to suggest, without giving any additional information, that our trade representatives are not going to be able to accomplish what they have suggested.

Consequently, it becomes even more important to analyze the impact of the recent World Trace Organization rulings regarding Internet gaming and the long-term impact on future United States trade agreements under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. Now the study is even more important when it comes to issues affecting the World Trade Organization.

To me, that statement from our trade reps last week was akin to saying 'I divorce thee, I divorce thee, I divorce thee' and all of the sudden being divorced from your wife. You can't unring these bells so easily. So, before we do anything we ought to study the issues. That's why this legislation is not only important, but timely. Before we go off in one direction or another, and before our trade reps make these threatening comments, and before the states do anything or before we do one more piece of legislation that affects Internet gaming, we ought to know what we're taking about. And I would guarantee that 99.9 percent of the members of Congress don't have a clue about Internet gaming, its impact, whether software exists that can protect problem gamblers from betting online or protect children from gambling. Nobody knows any of the answers and we're not going to know the answers until we do this study.

You can pass any law you want, and prohibition leaps to mind. But if the public doesn't agree with the government that passes the law and attempts to enforce it, they're going to do what they want anyway.

"Look, a year from now when this study is completed, if it's not favorable to Internet gambling I'll be the first one to say, 'You know what? I was wrong. Internet gaming is not a good idea."

IGN: How does your bill fit with Frank's Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act?

Berkley: I am co-sponsoring his (bill); he is co-sponsoring mine and we think that they're compatible. They're not so interrelated that you can't pass one without the other. However, they compliment each other and I am very supportive of the Barney Frank bill.

IGN: Frank has said that he is not going to introduce his bill for a House vote unless he is confident that it will pass. Do you have any sense of what sort of chances you bill has of passing?

Berkley: Well, in a 24-hour period I picked up 61 co-sponsors. Look, none of this is easy. If it was easy it would have been done already. The reality is that you've got the horse people against it (the Frank bill) because they got a great exception for online horse betting carved out of that port security bill. They're riding a fat hog right now, so they don't want to see it. The NFL and the NBA and all of our professional sports leagues have come out against it (the Frank bill), which is a joke. The reality is that the success of their teams is dependent on the action that Las Vegas brings to the table. In my opinion there is no reason for the professional sports associations to be opposed to this legislation that doesn't affect them one way or another.

I think my next call would be to all of these different leagues urging them to support the legislation to study online gambling given the fact that it's completely neutral.

Look, a year from now when this study is completed, if it's not favorable to Internet gambling I'll be the first one to say, 'You know what? I was wrong. Internet gaming is not a good idea.'

IGN: You stress that the bill doesn't take a side, but what is your side?

Berkley: I am a proponent of Internet gaming. I am unabashedly supportive of the gaming industry and Internet gaming. But, again, I am not that dogmatic that if shown evidence to the contrary I wouldn't change my mind.

IGN: You voted for the Safe Port Act. Were you in support of the UIGEA or were you unaware of what you were voting for?

Berkley: We got early indications that they were trying to stick the Internet gaming ban in the Department of Defense authorization and we raised holy heck. Then we heard that they weren't going to put it in the Department of Defense authorization. But at the last minute they put it in the port security bill; or should I say they sneaked it? I went down to the floor in the middle of the night to complain, which I did on more than on occasion that evening, and tried to get it out, which we couldn't. We all voted in favor of port security. It was a very important issue and they knew very well what they were doing at the time.

It was outrageous. Internet gaming in the port security bill. How about just banning gaming in the homeland security bill next time? It's outrageous. It's more than just Internet gaming; it's the way Congress operates. It's restricting our citizens' rights without a full and fair hearing on the issues, and tempering the way Congress does business. We ought to know what we're voting on and the impact of the legislation we're passing and the procedures in Congress. You could outlaw a legitimate form of entertainment on a whim with no notice and no hearings. That's outrageous and that's what happened with the Internet gaming ban. Whether you're for Internet gaming or against it, nobody could be in favor of the way it was passed.

Q & A: Shelley Berkley is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda