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Lawmakers resurrect Net gambling bill

A bipartisan group of House members reintroduces a version of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act to outlaw most forms of online wagering.

Federal lawmakers revived a bill today to make cybercasinos fold their cards.

A bipartisan group of House members has reintroduced a version of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act to outlaw most forms of online wagering and slap Net casino operators with penalties of up to four years in prison.

"Having a casino in one's home only encourages gambling addicts and sparks the interest of children. It is time to shine a bright light on gambling in this country and bring a quick end to illegal gambling on the Internet," Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), a chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement.

The federal Wire Act already allows states to prosecute those who "knowingly use a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets, wagers, or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers."

It is unclear whether the Wire Act applies to the Internet. But groups such as the National Association for Attorneys General are pushing for Congress to pass the bill, which would update the act to include computer networks. Opponents of the bill, such as the Interactive Gaming Council, want the United States to follow parts of Australia and regulate Net gambling--not ban it.

Like a flagship bill that has made ground in the Senate--Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-Arizona) Internet Gambling Prohibition Act--the House bill doesn't preempt state laws that permit gambling through "closed loop," subscription-based gambling services; horse races; lotteries; and fantasy sports leagues.

Kyl's bill would include the Internet under the existing law prohibiting the use of any wire communication for accepting interstate or foreign wagers, which the Justice Department estimates was a $600 million industry in 1997. Cybercasino operators would face fines up to $20,000 and four years in prison for violating the act, and Net casinos based on Indian reservations would be prohibited.

The Senate passed the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act last session, but it never cleared the final hurdle in the House. However, the Justice Department has said that the bill is too broad, and that it places stricter constraints on Net gamblers than those in the offline world.