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U.S. Congress Takes Up Online Gambling

The United States Congress took up the issue of internet gambling, and heard from a variety of sources as it gathered facts to see if the issue is worthy enough to bring up for debate.

Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, the widow of former musician and Congressman Sonny Bono stated that she believed the issue is very complex and more study may be needed before any action is taken. "There's just way too much here that has to be fleshed out to rush it and to put it into the work of the supercommittee (on budget deficit reduction)," she said. "We have to find a balance of moving it and balancing the technological problems with the policy problems."

Texas Congressman Joe Barton, who introduced an online poker bill earlier in the year said, "People are playing poker on the Internet in the U.S. for money today. It's not regulated and so these sites are offshore, overseas and, consequently, outside the ability for us to tax the winnings and make sure it's a fair game."

Barton went on to estimate that $40 billion in revenue could be raised in 10 years if internet poker is legalized.

Several industry members spoke at the hearing, with some speaking about gambling addiction. One of those was Dr. Dan Romer, Associate Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Romer explained his belief that online poker regulation could help stop underage gambling online.

“By controlling online gambling the federal government could minimize the harm that this activity can inflict on the young and their families and could also make the use of these sites safer for them. Additional research is needed to determine the best ways to implement such controls and to determine how best to protect children and other vulnerable populations from exploitation by gambling site operators." Romer said.

The American Gaming Association issued a statement following the hearing with Chief Executive Frank Fahrenkopf saying:

“Today’s hearing on Internet gambling made it abundantly clear that the “safe bet” is to allow states, following federal guidelines, to license and regulate online poker. Such action would protect U.S. consumers, keep children from gambling on the Internet, and provide the tools law enforcement needs to shut down illegal Internet gambling operators. It would also create new jobs and tax revenue at a time when our country sorely needs both."

“Testimony heard today and other testimony presented in writing, such as ours, demonstrates that new technology and processes used in ecommerce have been successfully adapted in jurisdictions where Internet gambling is legal, such as Great Britain, France, Italy and provinces in Canada, to keep minors from betting online and prevent illegal activities, such as money laundering and fraud."

“The subcommittee today heard clear evidence that millions of U.S. residents who play online are being put at risk because they are playing illegally with companies that are poorly regulated and, in the vast majority of the cases, outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement. The only way to protect U.S. consumers and ensure that minors aren’t gambling on the Internet is to allow the states to license and regulate the online poker."

“We support state licensing and regulation, following federal guidelines, on online poker because it is substantially different than other forms of gaming. First, it is a game that vast numbers of Americans have historically played and that millions of Americans still play."

“Second, unlike other forms of Internet gambling, poker is primarily a game of skill. And, poker is played between or among individuals, whereas in other forms of Internet gambling the customer is playing against the “house.” Finally, the support we’ve seen around the country is really focused on online poker and not on other forms of Internet gambling."

“We do not support any specific legislation, but there are certain provisions that any change should include:

• Each state should have the right to determine whether online poker should be legalized within their jurisdictions.

• Federal guidelines should be established that the states must follow to insure a consistent regulatory and legal framework.

• U.S. law enforcement should be provided with the ability to go after illegal operators and successfully prosecute them.

“We welcomed the hearings today and urge Congress to act to protect the U.S. consumer and ensure that online poker is being provided by law abiding, responsible companies.”

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