Poker lobby protests proposed ban on Net gambling


On the eve of a congressional field hearing in Iowa designed to ramp up support for federal legislation restricting Internet gambling, the poker lobby renewed its assault on the approach.

Poker Players Alliance President Michael Bolcerek decried the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act , which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in early July, as "short-sighted" and said it would only breed "unregulated online 'speakeasys'" that do nothing to curb the underage and problem gambling targeted by the bill's sponsors.

"A more sensible approach is to license, regulate and tax this skill game here in the United States, much like we already do with 'brick and mortar' casinos and card rooms," Bolcerek said in a statement released Wednesday by the group, which describes itself as a grassroots organization representing 100,000 players and enthusiasts.

A PPA-commissioned study (click for PDF) estimates that Uncle Sam could rake in at least $3.3 billion per year from income taxes and fees tied to a regulated online poker regime. 23 million Americans already play poker on the Internet, according to the lobby group.

Various incarnations of Net gambling restrictions have been bouncing around Congress for years amid international skepticism.

The House-approved bill would clarify that federal law prohibits processing financial transactions related to "unlawful" online gambling and would in some cases force Internet service providers to block access to offshore gambling sites. Democrats, a large number of whom voted against the measure, have criticized the approach as riddled with loopholes because it exempts wagers on horse races and lotteries.

The field hearing--a favorite practice of politicians during lengthy recesses away from the nation's capital--is scheduled to take place Thursday afternoon in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the home state of Rep. Jim Leach, a Republican congressman who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has endorsed the bill and exercises much control over when it would go before the Senate, is also on the planned attendance list.

It's unclear when the Senate will begin debating Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, labeled part of the Republicans' election-year "American Values" agenda, as it's just one of many proposals potentially on the agenda before the politicians return to campaigning. Congress is scheduled to return to Washington D.C. on Sept. 5 and is expected to break again by early October.

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