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Tony Batt

Bill Would Block Checks, Credit Cards For Payments

16 March 2006

WASHINGTON, DC -- Almost four years after it passed virtually the same legislation, a House committee on Wednesday approved by voice vote a bill that would prohibit the use of credit cards and checks to pay for Internet gambling.

The House Financial Services Committee passed the bill by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who said "the illegal Internet gambling industry has boomed" because Congress has failed for nearly a decade to pass legislation to crack down on online wagering.

Americans this year are projected to send about $6 billion to unregulated, offshore, online casinos, which is about half of the $12 billion that will be bet worldwide through the Internet, Leach said.

"Unlike in brick and mortar casinos in the United States where legal protections for bettors exist and where there is some compensatory social benefit in jobs and tax revenues, Internet gambling sites principally yield only liabilities to America and to Americans," Leach said.

In October 2002, the committee passed similar legislation by Leach, and the House passed the bill 319-104 in June 2003.

But the Senate never took up the Leach bill and a similar measure by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., stalled.

Kyl is trying to attach an Internet gambling ban to a lobbying reform bill this year in the Senate. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., already introduced an Internet gambling ban last month.

The revival of legislation to outlaw online wagering has been traced to the downfall of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Goodlatte and Kyl have blamed the defeat of previous efforts to ban Internet gambling on Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to three felonies including conspiracy to bribe members of Congress.

The only member of the House Financial Services Committee to oppose Leach's bill was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

"I do not myself gamble, but I do not see it as my job, as a member of the Congress of the United States, to interfere with the freedom to gamble of other adults," Frank said.

"The fact that people gamble more than they should does not seem to me a fit subject for a legislative prohibition any more than the fact that people eat more than they should, read what they shouldn't read, go to movies they shouldn't go to or do other things that many of us think are unwise and inappropriate."

Frank said opponents to Internet gambling include an odd coalition of conservatives and liberals.

"It seems to me that the approach of many of my liberal friends to gambling is akin to that of some conservatives to sex-related material," Franks said. "Mainly because they disapprove of it personally, they think we can prohibit other people from doing it."

Frank drew laughter when he lamented the absence of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a Republican of libertarian leanings who has said the government should not regulate behavior such as Internet gambling.

"Where is Ron Paul when I need him?" Frank asked.