House subcommittee OKs bill to ban Internet gambling

It has not been a good two days for the online poker player, especially those in the state of Washington.

Yesterday, a bill was passed that bans residents of the state from wagering online, effective June 7. Those that are caught for engaging in online gambling could face up to a Class C felony.

Today, a House of Representatives subcommittee also approved a bill that would ban Internet gambling nationwide.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act would update and expand an existing federal law to cover all forms of interstate gambling, prohibiting gambling on an estimated 2,300 Internet sites. It also prohibits a business from accepting certain forms of payment, including credit cards, checks, wire and Internet transfers, in illegal gambling transactions.

The bill, written by Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, passed the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime and will now head to the full committee for consideration. It is unclear if the bill will be passed soon, as Congress has a shorter schedule this year due to the November elections.

"I have been continuously committed to curbing gambling on the Internet," Goodlatte said on his Web site last month. "While gambling is currently illegal in the United States unless regulated by the states, the development of the Internet has made gambling easily accessible. It is common for illegal gambling businesses to operate freely until law enforcement finds and stops them.

"Illegal online gambling doesn't just hurt gamblers and their families, it hurts the economy by draining dollars from the United States and serves as a vehicle for money laundering. It is time to shine a bright light on theses illegal sites and bring a quick end to illegal gambling on the Internet and I applaud the Judiciary Committee for holding a hearing on this important legislation."

Last month, professional poker players Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson and Greg Raymer, representing the Poker Players Alliance, called on Congress to reject this bill and two others that would ban Internet gambling nationwide. The three players questioned why online poker, an estimated $12 billion industry, should be made illegal if it remains legal in U.S. casinos.

Raymer said on Thursday that he was disappointed the bill passed in the House subcommittee, but it's far from a done deal.

"Passing a subcommittee is a long way from being law," Raymer said. "It's still got to be passed by the house as a whole, then the Senate, then not be vetoed. They only got one little hurdle, it's a shame they got that far. Unfortunately, it's an easier thing to kill in a subcommittee than a floor vote.

"The PPA will do the same things they are doing. The best things that poker players can do is to write to their congressman. Tell them they are against this legislation and that you would consider it a big factor in who you would vote for in the next election."

Lederer, while not surprised by the bill's progress, expressed optimism.

"Wednesday's actions by the House Judiciary subcommittee were expected," he said. "The big fight for Americans' right to play the great game of poker will happen later this year. I am hopeful that ultimately this misguided attempt to prohibit an activity enjoyed by 23 million U.S. adults will not succeed."

Raymer says the PPA has offered Congress an alternative.

"The Senators should vote against [this] legislation and favor legislation that legalizes, regulates and taxes these corporations," he said. "There's no bill that has been put in for regulation.

"They were asking us to draft some legislation when we were lobbying, but of course that's not something you can just do overnight. You need to do your research."

Andrew Feldman is the ESPN Poker Club's columnist, editor, producer and tournament director. To contact Andrew, e-mail andrew.j.feldman@espn3.com.