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Wanna Bet You Can Bet Online?

10/25/09 - Southtown Star - View Source

By Michael Drakulich

Any adult can go to Las Vegas and bet his life's savings without fear of federal agents coming in and slapping the cuffs on him.

Even closer to home, any adult can bet it all on the horses at Balmoral Park in Crete, and the only risk is the money handed over to the teller.

So why can't people sit in front of a computer and place an innocuous bet on a favorite pro or college sports team?

The answer is that it's illegal.

It is too hard for federal and state authorities to regulate such businesses, especially keeping track of monetary transactions, authorities say.

Robert J. Rasmussen, 42, 7432 W. 161st St., Tinley Park, and John Bowling, 60, 9425 Boardwalk, Orland Park, are finding that out the hard way, authorities say.

The two were indicted Wednesday with 28 others in New York, Florida, Nevada and Panama for being part of a multimillion-dollar offshore betting operation, New York officials said.

The operation set up several betting Web sites for potential bettors and routed the transactions to offshore servers in Panama, according to the indictment.

When betting is done by using some sort of communication across international lines, that's the problem.

The U.S. Justice Department says online sports gambling falls under the auspices of the federal Interstate Wire Act of 1961. Though online betting certainly did not exist at the time the act was passed, it's the transfer of money through a "wire communications facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers" that puts online betting within the scope of the law.

Ian McCaleb, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was enacted in 2006 to address online gambling more specifically, though it was considered illegal under previous criminal statutes.

According to the Justice Department, several Internet gambling Web sites stopped accepting wagers from American citizens after the Internet gambling law went into effect.

Though federal law does not differentiate between sports betting online and, say, betting on games of chance such as poker, the courts have.

In November 2002, a U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the law is applied to sporting events or contests, not wagering in general.

Still, John Brokopp, a SouthtownStar gaming columnist and gambling expert, says it's not worth the risk even if there may be a legal gray area.

"Any Las Vegas casino-style gambling is strictly something law-abiding citizens need to avoid (online)," he said.

The only legal Internet or phone wagers Illinois residents can make are on horse racing.

That measure was approved by Gov. Pat Quinn in August. Last week, the Illinois Racing Board issued licenses to three California companies that will handle the wagers via the Internet, phone or mobile device such as a smart phone.

The three companies are TVG Network out of Los Angeles, out of Mountain View and

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