Lawmakers Bet on Internet Gambling Legislation
Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Peter King, R-N.Y. unveiled legislation Wednesday that would enable Americans to legally gamble online
By Mosheh Oinounou
If running major financial institutions and the auto industry isn't enough for the Obama administration, a new House bill would put the Treasury Department in charge of Internet gambling.
Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Peter King, R-N.Y., unveiled legislation Wednesday that would enable Americans to legally gamble online.
"The government should not interfere with people's liberty unless there is a good reason," Frank said. "This is, I believe, the single biggest example of an intrusion into the principle that people should be free to do things on the Internet. It's clearly the case that gambling is an activity that can be done offline but not online."
But the legislation grants the Treasury Department far-reaching power over online gambling.
The bill would allow the Treasury secretary to license and revoke licenses of Internet gambling Web sites under the guise of protection Americans' personal freedoms to gamble and consumer protection concerns.
The bill would also allow the Treasury secretary to "assess" license holders for the costs of background checks and investigations of Web sites applying for the license.
And the bill provides for mechanisms for state and local taxes to be collected and re-distributed.
The law currently prohibits credit card companies and banks from processing bets placed on online gambling Web sites.
The legislation will repeal language passed in 2006 and signed into law by President Bush that made it illegal for banks and credit card companies to process bets made on the Internet.
Opponents argue that this will serve as a "clear danger to our youth" and encourage gambling addiction at a young age.
"If you put a computer in a teenager's bedroom, or in a student's dorm room at college, it's a temptation that many fall prey to," Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., said in a statement. "In fact, studies have shown that the earlier one begins gambling, the more likely it is he or she will become a compulsive problem gambler."
But Frank said his bill will include safeguards to prevent underage or compulsive gambling and other illegal activity.
"The notion that a society should prohibit something entirely because of the possibility that children will abuse it is a terrible blow to liberty," Frank said.
Among the safeguards in the bill is that any Internet gambling operator would be required to: ensure an individual placing a bet is of legal age (as defined by the law in the state or tribal area) and physically located in that jurisdiction, combats compulsive Internet gambling and money laundering, and protects privacy.
Frank added that he feels this will lift the burden off banks, which are compelled under the current legislation to regulate gambling activity.
The Poker Players Alliance, chaired by former New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, supports the bill. D'Amato said Wednesday in a press release that he is "grateful for Chairman Frank's leadership and will be activating our grassroots army made up of over one million members to help him drive legislation."
Michael Brodsky, head of Youbet.com, an online gambling Web site, praised Frank's bill.
"Banning Internet gambling has the same effect as the ban on alcohol had during Prohibition," Brodsky said. "It merely drives the activity underground, forgoes massive tax revenues and makes criminals out of otherwise law-abiding citizens.
"Chairman Frank's bill realities and would bring this underground activity into the light," he added.