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Lawmakers Open to Easing Restrictions on Online Gambling

3/6/08 - Politico - View Source

By Patrick O'Connor

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who once declared a ban on online gambling “one of the stupidest things I ever saw,” will use a hearing this spring to highlight the headaches he says anti-gambling regulations have created for banks and other financial institutions.

Online gambling inside the United States has been illegal for years. In order to prevent Americans from gambling with foreign companies via the Internet, Congress approved legislation in 2006 that requires banks and credit card companies to block payments to any online gambling websites based outside the United States.

At the time of the bill’s passage, opponents of the legislation argued it would place onerous requirements on the financial institutions that oversee the flow of money — a point Frank hopes his hearing will drive home.

“The banks have a lot of other things to worry about right now,” Frank said, citing the ever-expanding mortgage crisis and a host of other financial woes that have beset the industry this year. “I don’t think poker should be one of them.”

Frank introduced legislation last year to roll back parts of the anti-gambling law. At the time, the Financial Services Committee chairman said he had no plans to advance that repeal until a sufficient number of colleagues would support it.

So far, that groundswell has failed to materialize. But last week, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), a powerful ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), signed on as a co-sponsor to the Frank legislation. And Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, introduced a new version of his legislation this week to legalize, regulate and tax some forms of Internet gambling.

He has argued the move would create a financial windfall for the federal government.

The Frank hearing comes as federal regulators struggle to decipher the law for banks and other financial institutions required to block this flow of money to foreign gambling sites. The Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve issued guidelines last fall that were intended to clarify what types of transactions banks, credit card companies and other institutions should block.

But many of those financial services companies, in conjunction with gamblers, lawmakers and a broad cross section of trade associations affected by the law, have since flooded the Treasury and the Federal Reserve with protest letters, arguing the clarification itself was too vague. In letters to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a group of congressional Republicans argued that banks will choose to block every transaction that might be interpreted as gambling, whether it is legal or not, if these regulators do not do a better job of clarifying which transactions banks must block.

A coalition of gambling interests, financial institutions and outside trade groups has been working with backers of the original law to tweak the current rules, but most legislation on Capitol Hill remains stalled due to a lack of broad interest in the issue.

Protecting Children
Compulsive Gambling Safeguards
Secure Financial Transactions
New Government Revenues
Regulated and Licensed Environment
International Ramifications
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