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Tony Batt

Chances Seem Slim for Passing Net Betting Ban

28 August 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There may not be a better example of how much easier it is to block rather than pass legislation in Congress than the decade-long effort to prohibit Internet gambling.

The House and Senate have voted no fewer than six times to either outlaw or severely restrict online wagering. The closest vote in the Senate was 90-10 on July 22, 1998.

Just last month, the House voted 317-93 to outlaw Internet gambling, and the White House has signaled that President Bush is prepared to sign the bill into law.

But the House and Senate never have managed to pass an Internet gambling ban during the same two-year session of Congress.

Prospects appear bleak that the Senate will pass an online wagering prohibition when it returns after Labor Day for the final weeks of the 109th session of Congress.

Meanwhile, the Internet gambling industry continues its exponential growth. It has gone from 30 offshore Web sites taking in $30 million in bets in 1996 to a $12 billion industry with more than 2,300 Web sites this year.

"When the Senate comes back, there is going to be an awful lot on their plate, and I'm just not sure what kind of priority is going to be given to this gaming legislation," said Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, which is the casinos' chief lobbying arm in Washington.

But Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who has led the effort in the Senate to ban online wagering, is going to take one more shot, according to a source who requested anonymity.

Kyl is trying to remove language from the House bill that would amend the 1961 Wire Act so that it would outlaw using the Internet to place bets across state lines. By doing this, Kyl hopes to address concerns of the horse racing industry and remove holds on the bill in the Senate.

If Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., calls for a vote on Kyl's streamlined version within the first two weeks after Labor Day, advocates of the ban are confident the House would quickly follow with its approval.

Then the modified bill, which would ban the use of credit cards and other bank instruments for Internet gambling payments, could be sent to the president's desk.

Kyl has declined to comment on these reports and an e-mail to his office was not returned.

Frist spokeswoman Carolyn Weyforth said Frist would like for the Senate to vote in September on the bill approved by the House.

"Given the overwhelming House vote, we expect Senator (Harry) Reid to cooperate in this effort to prevent underage and illegal gambling," Weyforth said.

Reid, the Democratic leader and a former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, has said he opposes Internet gambling because he does not think it can be effectively regulated.

But it's not clear if Reid would support the House bill.

"Senator Reid would not object to a congressional study on online gaming," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

Joseph Kelly, a business law professor at State University of New York College in Buffalo who has written regulations for online gambling sites in Antigua, said Congress may be more receptive to an Internet gambling study than a ban.

"A study might make a lot more sense," Kelly said. "More and more, the casino industry is supporting regulation as opposed to prohibition of Internet gambling, which has become impossible."

Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., introduced a bill in May calling for an 18-month study of Internet gambling by a federal commission.

"If nothing happens this year, I'm sure the same bill will be introduced next year right out of the box," Fahrenkopf said. "I think it would have a great deal of impetus."

Chances Seem Slim for Passing Net Betting Ban is republished from