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Christian Right Joins Betting Fight

8/14/07 - Financial Times

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner

The National Football League has enlisted the support of the Christian right to help drum up opposition to a proposal in Congress that would legalise sports betting and reverse sweeping prohibitions on online gambling that were passed last year.

The primary target of the lobbying campaign by the sports league and Focus on the Family, the evangelical group headed by James Dobson, is a proposal introduced this year by Barney Frank, the powerful Democratic lawmaker, that would undo the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.

The law strengthened federal anti-gambling laws and wiped billions of dollars in value from foreign gaming companies that had operated in the US while the anti-gambling statutes were more ambiguous.

In a July 31 e-mail obtained by the Financial Times, Bill Wichterman – a Washington lobbyist for the NFL who served as a top adviser to former Republican majority leader Bill Frist – encouraged conservative groups to co-sign a letter to Congress that ostensibly was written by Focus on the Family. "The threat posed by the Frank legislation is very real, and we must actively work against it," Mr Wichterman wrote.

The letter was co-signed by the Christian Coalition and American Values, among others. It urged members of Congress to protect the integrity of the 2006 Act, and cautioned that lawmakers should be wary of "misinformation campaigns" by "foreign gambling interests".

The NFL said the sports league did not author the Focus on the Family letter and there was nothing unusual about its alliance with the Christian groups given their mutual opposition to gambling. Focus on the Family declined to comment.

The campaign underscores how much clout the NFL and its allies wield in the debate over online gaming and sports betting – and the reason why, some observers say, Mr Frank's proposal will not become law as long as it includes a provision that allows bets on sports.

While the NFL is active in the lucrative market for fantasy sports betting, which is legal and was not affected by the anti-gaming legislation, it says legalising sports bets would have a "corrosive" effect on football.

Mr Frank's proposal contains an "opt-out" for individual sports leagues such as the NFL, but the group says it nevertheless "threatens to undermine the integrity of American sports".
Former New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who chairs the Poker Players' Alliance, a pro-gaming group, says the NFL's lobbying shows it believes Mr Frank's bill is gaining traction among lawmakers, who see the regulation of gambling as an attractive way to generate tax revenue.

But he says the NFL's influence in Washington is the "major issue" that could prevent the bill from gaining more support. "I don't believe the NFL can be defeated on this."

He added: "They aren't going to want anyone betting on their games unless they can control it."

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