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Online gamblers sue their creditors

A California couple that lost more than $100,000 by gambling online sues a host of credit card companies and banks, claiming the businesses shouldn't have processed their wagers.

A California couple that lost more than $100,000 gambling online is suing a host of credit card companies and banks, claiming the businesses shouldn't have processed the wagers.

Lisa and Andrew Harding racked up tens of thousands of dollars in online gambling debt during 2002 and 2003, prompting a lawsuit from credit card company Retailers National Bank, which accused Lisa Harding of failing to pay the bills.

Last week, the pair filed a countersuit against several credit card companies, including Visa International and its USA division, MasterCard International and Discover Financial Services. They also sued banks that issued the cards, including Retailers National Bank and Citibank, and companies they said electronically transferred funds for some of their bets, including Western Union Holdings.

The countersuit, filed in Superior Court in Alameda County, Calif., claims that the companies ran afoul of California's unfair business practices act by processing the gambling transactions and violated a state prohibition against providing credit for gambling. The suit also claims the companies violated the USA Patriot Act, which prohibits illegal money transmissions.

"We brought this so this will not happen to anybody else, so companies will stop making money off of illegal gambling loans in California," said Ira Rothken, an attorney of the Hardings.

Many major credit card companies have policies of not doing business with any sites they know offer online wagering. Rothken said it's up to the companies to enforce those policies--something he said they didn't do in this case. "Evidently, there are bugs in their system," Rothken said.

Paul Klemm, an attorney who's representing Retailers National Bank, said he hadn't received the cross-complaint and wouldn't comment on the case.

The countersuit is seeking to relieve the Hardings of their debt. If it succeeds, it wouldn't be the first suit to put a dent in an online gambler's liability to a credit card company. In two similar suits also brought by Rothken, both Discover Card and Visa agreed to relieve some portion of the charges that online gamblers had rung up.

Online gambling payment has also become a hot topic among federal lawmakers. Two weeks ago, a Senate committee approved a bill that would make credit card payments to gambling sites illegal. The House passed a similar bill in June.