As expected by many on Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed HR 4777, the bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) called the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. During the same committee meeting, another bill regarding Internet poker and gaming called HR 4411, sponsored by Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) and known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, also received support from the committee and seems to be on the fast track to head to the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives along with HR 4777.
The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act was passed by a nearly straight party vote of 25-11. Rep. Goodlatte, in speaking about the bill during the committee hearings, said, "I oppose gambling because I think it causes many, many problems in our society." The legislation has the support of the Justice Department because it would plug holes in the Wire Act of 1961, which outlawed the transmission of wagers over phone lines but has no jurisdiction over the Internet.
Both Rep. Goodlatte's bill and Rep. Leach's proposed bill would seek to criminalize the electronic transmission of funds for gaming purposes. The Leach bill would make it illegal for credit card companies to accept transactions at online gaming sites, while the Goodlatte bill goes further and forces U. S. financial institutions to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies and report customers transactions. It would also look to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to cut off access to offshore sites their customers might use for online poker and gaming. Both bills, interestingly enough, make provisions to allow for wagering regarding horse racing, fantasy sports betting and state lotteries.
Michael Bolcerek, the president of the Poker Players Alliance who had been on Capitol Hill lobbying against the proposed bills, continued to speak for poker players across the country. After passage of HR 4777, Bolcerek stated, "These prohibition bills promote an egregious intrusion into the personal affairs of ordinary Americans. Poker is a uniquely American game, enjoyed by more than 70 million people in this country. Simply putting the word 'Internet' in front of poker should not criminalize this American tradition and the people who play it. Let's take a step in the right direction in favor of good public policy that assesses online poker in the 21st century and not relive the past mistakes of 1930's Prohibition."
Bolcerek was also adamant that there were exceptions given for some games of chance while neglecting the game of skill that is poker. "If games of chance are given a free pass in this bill, it makes no sense that a skill game like poker should be banned. Congress should not be picking online winners and losers," said Bolcerek. The Poker Players Alliance is currently supporting another bill in the House, HR 5474, which calls for a governmental study of regulation and licensing of the $12 billion dollar online gaming industry. This bill has only recently been introduced and further action on it is unknown at this time.
While passage of HR 4777 allows the bill to be submitted to the House of Representatives, this doesn't mean that will necessarily happen. The bill could be on the floor within two to three weeks for a vote in the legislative body and it is also possible that the proposed bill may never be presented for a vote before the full House. Even if it does pass out of the House of Representatives, there is still quite a bit that has to happen before it can even attempt to become law.
The Senate would have to have similar legislation on its agenda before HR 4777 can move any further than the House of Representatives. There has already been significant action from some Senators in that body to regulating the industry, rather than an outright ban on Internet gaming. Even Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who has been one of the most vociferous activists regarding online poker and gaming in the Senate, is taking a cautious approach and waiting to see what happens with the House legislation before even attempting any further actions in the Senate.
Without supporting legislation from the Senate, HR 4777 and other bills like it would have nowhere to go. Even if the Senate was to have legislation pass that supported the actions of the different House bills, the different pieces of legislation from the two bodies would have to go through a reconciliation process that would get all the provisions down to a single bill that both bodies would once again have to vote on and pass. Only then would this bill then see President Bush's (or whomever has the office at that time) desk.
As you can see, this is going to be a lengthy battle in the halls of Congress. PokerNews will continue to keep an eye towards the ongoing legislation in Washington, DC and will attempt to keep you abreast of the latest activities by our elected representatives in both the House and Senate.
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