GOP Wants No Net Bets

WASHINGTON — House Republicans, bowing to pressure from conservative groups, agreed to propose a ban on nearly all forms of Internet gambling.

The draconian proposal, scheduled for a floor vote next week, is the result of closed-door negotiations between GOP leaders and special interest groups that claim an earlier version of the bill does not go far enough.

“It’s about time Congress acts to curb this dangerous and rapidly expanding activity. Online gambling is much more destructive and addictive than other forms of gambling; it provides high-speed instant gratification together with the anonymity of the home,” said Janet Parshall, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council in Washington.

“When finally approved, this will be a victory for American families and traditional values,” said Billy Tauzin, chairman of a House Commerce Telecommunications Subcommittee. Tauzin credited the bill’s sponsor, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), for handling the negotiations.

The measure says “it shall be unlawful for a person engaged in a gambling business knowingly to use the Internet or any other interactive computer service to place, receive, or otherwise make a 789bet bet or wager; or to send, receive, or invite information assisting in the placing of a bet or wager.” Anyone who violates the law would be subject to fines and up to four years in federal prison.

Gone from the new version is an exemption that would have permitted some forms of horse race, dog race, or jai alai betting.

But not all nations are as conservative as the U.S. about gambling, and some Caribbean countries happily welcome and regulate “offshore” Internet casinos.

The bill tries to anticipate the offshore enforcement problem by saying that law enforcement agencies may obtain an order telling an Internet service provider to take “reasonable steps specified in the order to block access, to a specific, identified, foreign online location.”

Internet service providers also would be required to provide filtering software and “expeditiously” pull the plug on suspicious websites once contacted by state or federal police. No court order would be required, and the ISPs would need to cooperate to be immune from prosecutions.

Another anti-gambling bill, approved last month by the House Banking Committee, takes a different approach. It tries to bar businesses from knowingly processing credit cards, accepting checks, or conducting any transaction related to Internet gambling.

Critics have said Republicans are hypocritical for claiming to believe in a hands-off approach to the Internet while simultaneously backing strict controls.

“If government takes on the role of deciding which online activities individuals should engage in, it is substituting its moral compass for that of the individual and that would deliver two blows against liberty,” said Sonia Arrison, director of technology policy at the free-market Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.

“If government substitutes strict regulations for individual choices, it would discourage individual responsibility,” Arrison said. “For instance, in California, a law has been proposed to place credit card companies on notice that gambling debts incurred on the Internet are not enforceable. But if people can’t be held responsible for their actions, what incentive will they have to make responsible choices?”

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) has introduced related legislation called the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. After initially opposing it, the horse racing industry came around to cautiously support it because the bill would clarify some of the uncertainties surrounding their business.

Since the Senate has already passed Kyl’s bill, both chambers would have to reach a compromise proposal and then approve it for the law to take effect.