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Frist Pushing Internet Gambling Ban

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist targeted a ban on Internet gambling as a top priority for the U.S. Senate in the waning days of the 109th Congress.

With little more than 20 working days left before the November mid-term elections, the Senate faces a crowded agenda including 13 different funding bills to keep the government functioning when its new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have a tentative Oct. 9 adjournment date.

In its first session Tuesday since the August recess, Frist prioritized the appropriation bills, judicial nominee confirmations and halting Internet gambling as his top issues.

"Internet gambling threatens our families by bringing addictive behavior right into our living rooms," Frist said in floor remarks.

The House of Representatives approved legislation in July updating the 1961 Wire Act that bans sports wagering over the telephone to include all forms of online gambling.

The bill would also force banks and credit card companies to refuse payments to the estimated 2,300 offshore gambling sites located outside of U.S. jurisdiction.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (H.R. 4411) specifically exempts online horse racing and state lotteries from the legislation.

"We tried to get it done [Senate passage of the bill] before the recess but were unable to get unanimous consent to bring the bill up," Karen Weyforth, a spokesperson for Frist's office, told internetnews.com.

To make room on the jammed Senate calendar, Weyforth said Frist hopes to bring up the bill for a vote "with very little debate" by limiting the time available for floor discussion of the legislation.

Throughout both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has contended the Wire Act already covers Internet gambling.

Previous congressional efforts to clarify the law have failed.

Momentum for a new Internet gambling ban gained traction in January when former lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials.

Proponents of the ban contend Abramoff used his influence to kill previous anti-gambling bills, pointing to allegations in court documents that he made payments of $50,000 to the wife of a unnamed Capitol Hill staffer for help in stopping at least one Internet gambling bill.

Internet gambling maintained a high profile this summer as the Department of Justice (DoJ) moved aggressively against London-based BetonSports, which maintains operations in Costa Rica and Antigua aimed at U.S. gamblers.

In July, a St. Louis grand jury issued a 22-count indictment against the gambling firm and its top officers, charging them with racketeering, conspiracy and fraud, including failing to pay federal wagering excise taxes on more than $3.3 billion in wagers taken from U.S. bettors.

Former BetonSports CEO David Carruthers remains under house arrest in St. Louis while company founder Gary Kaplan remains a fugitive at large.

The London Stock Exchange suspended trading in the company's shares on July 17 and by August, the company cut off access to its sites for U.S. bettors.