House passes Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act

The game of poker has been dealt another bad beat.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted 317-93 in favor of H.R. 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, a bill which would prohibit banks and credit card companies from processing payments for online gambling bets. It also includes the major provisions of another bill, H.R. 4777, pushed by Congressman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., that would force Internet Service Providers to block access or disable hyperlinks to Web sites that offer online gambling.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where some political experts say it would have a difficult time passing. However, the White House has said it supports the bill.

Goodlatte, who sponsored the bill along with fellow Republican Jim Leach, called online gaming "a scourge on our society" on the House floor.

Goodlatte also claimed on his Web site that online casinos "serve as a vehicle for money laundering, undermine families, and threaten the ability of states to enact and enforce their own laws."

"I am extremely pleased by the passage of this legislation through the House of Representatives and now I call on the Senate to act on this important legislation," Goodlatte said on his Web site. "Gambling on the Internet has become an extremely lucrative business. Numerous studies have charted the explosive growth of this industry, both by the increases in gambling websites available, and via industry revenues. Internet gambling is now estimated to be a $12 billion industry, with approximately $6 billion coming from bettors based in the U.S. It has been reported that there are as many as 2,300 gambling sites."

The Poker Players Alliance continues to battle this bill, and its president, Michael Bolcerek, said yesterday, "We are disappointed that the House of Representatives would assail the rights of Americans to enjoy the great game of poker on the Internet.

"It is unconscionable that a skill game like poker gets swept into the net of prohibition, while online horse betting and Internet lotteries get free passes.

"The United States should follow the lead of the United Kingdom by regulating and taxing online poker, not banning
it. An economic analysis just released by our organization shows that U.S. regulation of online poker has the potential to raise more than $3.3 billion in annual revenue for the federal government, in addition to another $1 billion for state coffers. We hope that this analysis will give a fresh perspective for U.S. Senators about the benefits of regulation.

"Our organization enthusiastically supports regulation and taxation, rather than an outright ban. We remain hopeful that opponents of Internet poker will come to the realization that prohibitions don't work and will embrace the idea of creating a regulated environment so that Americans can have an even higher level of comfort when playing poker online."

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