The U.S. House Committee on Financial Services will conduct a hearing on Friday, June 8th at 10 a.m. to discuss the feasibility of regulating online gambling in the United States. The hearing, 'Can Internet Gambling Be Effectively Regulated to Protect Consumers and the Payment System?' will take place at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
The list of witnesses initially invited to testify has also been announced, and has raised a few eyebrows. The list includes pro player Howard Lederer; Radley Balko, the Senior Editor of Reason Magazine; Jon Prideaux, Chief Executive of Asterion Payments; Gerald Kitchen, CEO of SecureTrading, Ltd., and Pastor Greg Hogan. Hogan is the father of Greg Hogan, Jr., the Lehigh University student who robbed a bank in December of 2005 and claimed that it was his online-poker debts that forced him to do so.
The House Committee on Financial Services is chaired by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who in late April introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation Enforcement Act (H.R. 2046). Plans for Friday's hearing were also announced at the time of the bill's introduction. Such a hearing marks an initial step in the committee's deliberations regarding the IGREA — a crucial stage in the legislative process out of which most bills never pass.
With 70 members, the House Committee on Financial Services is one of the largest in Congress. Party representation on the committee follows that of the entire House, with Democrats holding a slight majority. Since introducing the bill, Frank has spoken of the IGREA receiving bipartisan backing from committee members, and has in particular cited committee members Ron Paul (R-TX) and Peter King (R-NY) as having already indicated their support of the bill as co-sponsors.
One way to forecast how the IGREA might fare in committee is to consider how its members voted on the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act (H.R. 4411) on July 11, 2006. Unlike what occurred in October of last year, when Congress voted on the UIGEA as an amendment to the Safe Port Act, the House was able to consider the issue separately last summer when its members voted in favor of H.R. 4411 by a 3-to-1 margin.
Of the 70 current members of the Financial Services committee, 55 voted on H.R. 4411 back in July, with 46 of those 55 votes supporting the bill. Eight of the nine voting against the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act were Democrats (including Frank), with Congressman Paul the lone Republican to have opposed the bill.
Congressman King's example shows that not everyone who supported H.R. 4411 necessarily will oppose the IGREA. The bill nevertheless likely faces an uphill battle, even in committee. As of today, a total of 19 of Frank's 69 committee colleagues (including Paul and King) have listed themselves as co-sponsors.
Friday's hearing should also have some influence on the fate of the recently-proposed bill to provide for a study of internet gambling by the National Academy of Sciences (H.R. 2140), proposed by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV). Berkley's bill currently awaits deliberation by the House Ways and Means Committee.