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House Leaders Pull Bet on Internet Gambling Vote

WASHINGTON -- For the time being, proponents of a bill to prohibit U.S.-based banks and credit card companies from making payments to Internet gambling sites have folded their hand in a parliamentary attempt to trump amendments to the legislation that have slowed the movement to curb online gambling.

As originally introduced by Rep. Jim Leach (R.-Iowa), the Unlawful Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act (H.R. 21), creates a new crime of accepting financial instruments, such as credit cards or electronic fund transfers, for debts incurred in Internet gambling.

The legislation also created notable exemptions for state-run lotteries and horse and dog track operators. Leach's bill is strongly supported by the White House, family groups, sports leagues and law enforcement agencies.

On May 15, however, the bill was amended, 16-15, by the House Judiciary Committee to remove those exemptions from the bill. Rep. Chris Cannon (R.-Utah) said he offered the amendment because he feared the exemptions could lead to legalized gambling in his home state and the fact he didn't want to get in the business of regulating credit card companies.

By almost all accounts, the amendment doomed the bill from House passage. Undeterred, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R.-Ala.) introduced the Unlawful Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act (H.R. 2143), which restored Leach's exemptions to state lotteries and racing venues.

By not including any criminal or civil penalties for violators of the act, the Bachus bill puts the legislation outside the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee. On May 21, the Financial Services Committee approved the bill on a voice vote.

"The (Bachus) bill does the same thing as our legislation," a Leach spokesperson said Monday.

House leaders then chose to put the Bachus bill before the House instead of the amended Leach legislation. They then fast tracked the Bachus bill by scheduling it for a Tuesday vote under a suspension of the rules, which is normally reserved for non controversial legislation. When a bill is considered under the suspended rules, it can't be amended but requires a two-thirds majority to pass.

House sources told Internetnews.com that while the Bachus bill created no criminal or civil penalties for violators, House leaders hoped to get the toothless legislation through the House and then add penalties after the Senate passes it own version of the bill.

"It's remarkable that the exemptions are more important to the proponents than enforceable criminal penalties for violators," one source told Internetnews.com.

When word began to spread of the Tuesday vote, opposition quickly built within both the Republican and Democratic ranks. By late Monday, it became obvious to House leaders that the two-thirds vote required under the suspended rules wasn't there, and they scratched the vote.

It is estimated that more than $2 billion will be wagered through online sites this year alone.