End it or mend it? That’s the question facing Congress as it wrestles with Internet gaming.
Opponents of Web wagering won a key battle last month when the House Financial Services Committee voted 34-18 to virtually ban Internet gambling in the United States. The measure outlaws payments for online wagers by credit cards, checks and electronic funds transfers.
But the war is far from over. The Bush administration’s Justice Department has yet to weigh in with a position on the issue. Meantime, industry groups contend that regulation ”” not abolition ”” is the solution.
“Internet gaming already exists, with most recent statistics showing there are as many as 1,400 to 1,650 gaming Web sites currently operating,’’ said Frank Catania, former chairman of the International Association of Gaming Regulators and a former director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
“Billions of dollars are being bet over the Internet with little, if any, oversight,’’ according to the Interactive Gaming Council, an international trade association of some 100 companies involved with interactive gaming.
State and local governments seeking broader tax sources are intrigued at the prospect of tapping into a new revenue stream. Nevada this year became the first state to authorize online wagering, though no approvals have yet been granted.
Catania and other online gaming proponents say that a federal ban on Internet wagering will merely drive more unregulated, underground activity.
“Strict regulation will work,’’ he declared. “The question before Congress is not whether we will have online gaming ”” you most certainly will unless you ban the Internet itself ”” but whether you will have well-regulated, above-board online gaming.’’
Credit card companies, whose online business is growing annually, appear to be aligning with the gaming industry. But Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., has issued a stern warning to anyone who lobbies against an Internet gaming ban.
“Beware, because whether this bill passes or not, I’m going to suggest to every single bankruptcy court in America that any debtor who incurred debt due to Internet gambling be discharged from that debt because you, the credit card companies, have aided and abetted an illegal activity,’’ LaFalce said.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., maintained his proposal would not conflict with Nevada’s legislation. He said Nevada and Indian tribes could operate gambling Web sites, but they could not take wagers from beyond the borders of the state where they are located.
Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., supports the Goodlatte bill. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., backed similar legislation last year but has not said which way she will vote this time around.
Noting a number of technical differences with various other bills in the hopper, the American Gaming Association has not yet taken a formal position on the legislation.