Rivals roll dice on Net gambling

Opponents of a proposed federal ban on Internet gambling are rallying troops to fight the legislation as a companion bill may be introduced in the House.

3 min read
Rivals of a proposed federal ban on Internet gambling are rallying troops to fight the legislation due to word that a companion bill is in the works in the House of Representatives.

When Congress returns from its summer break, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) said he plans to introduce legislation that would amend the Interstate Wire Act to include the Net and private computer networks in its antigambling provisions. Current law prohibits placing or taking bets over "wires" such as phones lines.

LoBiondo's bill will mirror Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-Arizona) Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, filed in March. Under Kyl's bill, a "casual bettor" could get a $2,500 fine and six months in prison for violating the law. Operators could get a $20,000 fine and four years in prison for accepting just one wager.

President Clinton has also appointed members to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission to conduct a two-year probe of Internet gambling.

Those fighting the legislation say it is unenforceable due to the global nature of the Net, and that consumer demand for cybercasinos will overpower U.S. legislators attempt to eliminate online wagers. They also think the proposed penalties will make felons out of casual bettors. With the bill gaining support in the House, opponents say they are gearing up to stop it.

"It's going to criminalize a casual a bet of $20 in terms of fines and jail time for the bettor. So in the first ten days of September, we're going to do some coalition building," Sue Schneider, editor Rolling Good Times OnLine, said today. Schneider said opponents need to gain visibility as their voices have been silenced in the past. For example, she was not allowed to testify on behalf of the Interactive Services Association's 35-member Interactive Gaming Council at a Senate hearing on Kyl's bill in July, as reported by NEWS.COM.

Supporters who testified about the need for Kyl's bill included the National Association for Attorneys General, the National Football League, the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, and Sen. Richard Bryan (D-Nevada), whose state is best known for its strip of big, flashy casinos.

Gambling currently is overseen by states. But the Net has created a jurisdictional nightmare for local law enforcement officials because gamblers who live in states where brick-and-mortar casinos are illegal can now roll their dice anywhere in the world via their computer and modem. Some attorneys general have busted out-of-state site owners for taking bets from jurisdictions where the practice is outlawed. Most cases are still tied up in court.

"Internet gambling is wholly unregulated, and because it fosters interstate gambling it undermines the traditional authority of states' in regulating gambling," LoBiondo said in a statement. "In the state of New Jersey, we have seen the positive impact well-regulated gambling can have on a community."

LoBiondo added his state strictly monitors minors' access to slot machines and roulette tables, but that on the Net it was impossible to know the true age of bettors.

Still, Schneider and her coalition are convinced the real motivation to stop Net gambling comes down to dollars and cents.

"When you look at where the support is coming from--Las Vegas and now Atlantic City--they're in states that have highly regulated land-based gambling. Their concern is that Net gambling is going to eat into their existing state revenues. That was the same reason Las Vegas [casino owners] opposed the expansion of Indian reservation gambling and riverboat gambling."