House Bill Targets Internet Gambling

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - An estimated one billion dollars is spent annually on illegal Internet gambling, according to the House Subcommittee on Crime, which held hearings Thursday on a bill that would give state law enforcement officials the power to address the problem.

"We're not trying to prohibit currently existing forms of gambling," Rep. Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA) who is sponsoring the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (H.R. 3125), told CNSNews.com.
"We're simply trying to prevent the spread of it on the Internet," added Goodlatte.

The hearing opened with the testimony of a 21-year-old self-described "Internet gambling addict," who gave his identity as "John Doe" and was shielded from onlookers and television cameras.

An avid gambler since the age of 14, "John Doe" told the panel that he became involved with Internet casino gambling after following Internet advertising banners to a gambling Website headquartered on a Caribbean island.

"Fueled by my passion for Las Vegas games, this is when my Internet gambling addiction began," said "Doe."

The man said that from the privacy of his home in California, he lost $5,000 wagering on the Internet on blackjack and roulette, using his father's credit card. Under questioning by committee member Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), the young man admitted that he has a gambling problem, but he also said his gambling addiction was facilitated by the easy availability of Internet gambling.

Rep. Goodlatte said H. R. 3125 gives states the power to better enforce their own gambling regulations, while giving states' attorneys-general the power to keep out-of-state and offshore gambling enterprises from reaching across state and international borders to get customers.

"The attorneys-general have complained that they cannot reach someone outside their states who is offering gambling services within their state that are prohibited under state law," said Goodlatte. He said H.R. 3125 allows state law enforcement officials to "reach someone who is beaming [illegal gambling] into their state."

The bill allows exemptions for legal forms of online betting such as horse racing, dog racing, and Jai Alai - a fast-paced sport that some states, such as Florida and Nevada, offer with pari-mutuel betting.

According to the head counsel for the American Greyhound Track Operators, each state sets its own regulations on those sports and online betting within the states. "It's something that has to be approved by the state racing commission, the state pari-mutuel commission and regulated by the states," Henry Cashen told CNSNews.com.

The U.S. gaming industry has expressed broad support for the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, said an executive with Ladbroke/USA, a major U.S. gaming company.

"There is no opposition in the industry," John J. Ford told CNSNews.com.

While the U.S. gaming industry has voiced no apparent opposition to H.R. 3125, there is considerable opposition from Native American gaming interests, according to the executive director of the Native American Gaming Association.

The bill does not give Indian tribes the same exemptions to conduct legal online gambling, such as lotteries, that it gives to the states, Jacob Coin, told CNSNews.com.

"The bill doesn't afford Indian tribes, who are governments in their own right, the same courtesy," said Coin.

Some people are opposed to H.R. 3125 because they say that gambling is a personal choice that the government should not regulate at all.

"I don't see the benefit of Congress passing laws not allowing gambling," Colm Dillon told CNSNews.com. Dillon manages the Dubliner, a restaurant on Capitol Hill frequented by many Members of Congress.

"Sure gambling hurts; so does alcohol, so does tobacco, so do a lot of other things," said Dillon. "You're passing laws that take away from the majority for a very, very small percentage," he added.