Web Gambling Group Rolls Lobbying Dice

Online gambling activists are mounting a lobbying campaign to block legislation aimed at curtailing American use of digital gaming tables and sports books.

The Interactive Gaming Council (IGC), a trade association for the international interactive gambling industry, launched a Web site Thursday in which users can e-mail their elected representatives to oppose federal legislation that would block the use credit cards, checks or any other instrument of a U.S. bank for online gambling.

“Experts tell us that 50 to 60 percent of Internet gambling is done by U.S. players,” said Rick Smith, executive director of the IGC. “That means that thousands of Americans enjoy this as a form of entertainment. If they speak up, members of Congress will realize that many of their own constituents are upset about efforts at prohibition, preferring instead, player protections that would be made available through regulation.”

Visitors to the IGC site can fill out a form to voice opposition to the House bill, H.R. 21, and the Senate bill, S. 627. When the visitor submits the form, the message is automatically e-mailed to his or her representative and senators. The routing is based on the visitor’s zip code, so the service can only be used by U.S. residents.

H.R. 21, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act, was introduced by Rep. James Leach (R.-Iowa) and is intended to stop online gambling by U.S. players by making it illegal to use a credit car or other instrument of a U.S. bank for such activity. S. 627, introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) contains language similar to the Leach bill.

Leach’s bill passed out of the House Financial Services Committee on a voice vote in March, while Kyl’s legislation is pending before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

“Internet gambling serves no legitimate purpose in our society,” Leach said. “It is a danger to family and society at large. It should be ended.”

Leach’s bill, which was supported by the White House, is similar to legislation passed by voice vote in the House last Congress but was not considered by the Senate before the end of session. In a letter last October to then Senate leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.), Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Larry Lindsey expressed the Administration’s opposition to Internet gambling and urged consideration of the bill.

The Leach and Kyl bills, and an alternative bill from Representative John Conyers (D.-Mich.), which would study the licensing and regulation of Internet gambling, will be major topics of discussion next month at the fifth annual Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo in Toronto. This is the industry’s largest conference, with more than 1,000 people expected to attend.

“Not only are there enough online gamblers to have political clout,” said Sue Schneider, chairman of the IGC, “but we also expect to hear from people concerned about these deliberate efforts to diminish basic freedoms on the Internet. You don’t have to be a gambler to be wary of the Big Brother implications of these bills. Americans treasure freedom of personal choice and the right to privacy, and do not want the government to force banks to monitor every transaction that is done online.”

Schneider added, “Our country tried Prohibition once before, and we know it doesn’t work. Regulation is the only answer to the challenges confronting Internet gambling.”

The IGC is also providing banners that link to the IGC site to gambling sites and any other sites that want to encourage their U.S. visitors to take action.

“The IGC believes that most Americans will not appreciate their financial institutions dictating how they can spend their money,” said Keith Furlong, the IGC’s deputy director. “That intrusive prospect has to worry anyone involved in e-commerce generally, let alone those concerned about a deprivation of personal freedom.”

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