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Lawmakers debate Net bets, Webcasting

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on proposals to limit Internet gambling and grant Webcasters a reprieve from copyright fees.

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Tuesday on proposals to limit Internet gambling and to grant Webcasters a reprieve from copyright fees.

The two proposals are on a list of nearly 40 bills that the House leadership plans to consider in the waning days of this congressional session. House members are hoping to leave town as early as this Friday to campaign in November's election.

One of the bills, called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act, would make it unlawful for banks, credit card companies and other financial firms knowingly to transfer money to Internet gambling sites. The attorney general would be charged with notifying companies of forbidden offshore casinos.

It would also create a new federal crime of operating an "unlawful Internet gambling" Web site. Currently the Justice Department uses existing wire fraud laws to prosecute online casinos.

The gambling bill and the Webcasting bill are scheduled for a vote on what's known as the suspension calendar, a process that requires a two-thirds supermajority for approval. In July 2000, the House voted on a different gambling bill called the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, which failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds vote.

If the second bill were to take effect, it would grant Webcasters a six-month reprieve from controversial new copyright fees that are scheduled to take effect on Oct. 20. The proposed delay would provide a window for current court cases to conclude before the fees take effect.

Introduced last week by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., the measure would delay the effect of a June decision from the Librarian of Congress that set rates of about 0.07 cent per song, per listener, for the rights to play music online. Record labels criticized the sum as too low, but small Webcasters argued the fees would quickly add up to thousands of dollars, driving many out of business.

Previous attempt failed
While the Senate voted to ban Internet gambling in 1998 and 1999, both chambers of Congress have never successfully enacted a law against it.

In the July 2000 vote on the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, the bill failed to garner a two-thirds supermajority because it has morphed from a straightforward gambling ban into a way for special interest groups to win exceptions.

Some conservative groups pulled their support after horse-racing, dog-track and jai alai lobbyists inserted language that would, if anything, have expanded their reach online. Another controversial point was a requirement that ISPs (Internet service providers) "block access" to overseas Web sites when requested by police. That verges on Internet regulation, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, David Dreier, R-Calif., said at the time.