The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Monday, May 29, 2006

Goodlatte's anti-gambling bill advances; B1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

A local congressman’s effort to make interstate online gambling illegal has passed a key committee in the House of Representatives.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee reported House Resolution 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, to the full House this week on a 25-11 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, whose district includes Shenandoah County, would modify existing laws dealing with interstate electronic gambling to make it clear that gambling across state lines using computer networks in prohibited.

Gambling is illegal in the U.S. unless regulated by states.

“I am encouraged by the passage of this legislation through the Judiciary Committee,” said Goodlatte.

“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 Web sites available, and via industry revenues,” he said.

Government estimates put online gambling at $12 billion annually, with about $6 billion coming from bettors based in the U.S.

“These activities suck billions of dollars per year out of the U.S. economy, serve as a vehicle for money laundering, undermine families and threaten the ability of states to enact and enforce their own laws,” he said.

At present, federal law is mute on gambling and the Internet.

“The closest useful statute is the Wire Act, which prohibits gambling over telephone wires,” he said. That law never contemplated the Internet, which can use phone lines, but doesn’t necessarily do so.

The proposed act allows states to continue to regulate gambling with tight controls to be sure that it does not extend beyond their borders or to minors.

It also prohibits a gambling business from accepting certain forms of payment, including credit cards, checks, wire and Internet transfers, in illegal gambling transactions.

Federal, state and local governments can also ask courts to step in and stop violators. The maximum prison term for violation goes from two to five years.

Even “entities that have legal gambling operations in the United States” support this bill, Goodlatte said.

A number of Virginia lawmakers, including Goodlatte and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-9th, have tried and failed to amend federal gambling law before.

Recent developments, including the January guilty plea of Washington power lobbyist Jack Abramoff, have cleared the way for the bill to see the light of day.

Past efforts to bring the bill forward were derailed before it could make it to a floor vote.

“The efforts of Jack Abramoff and those acting on his behalf were largely responsible for widespread disinformation about this legislation” and its subsequent legislative death, Goodlatte said.

Abramoff, now cooperating with prosecutors in a congressional corruption investigation, lobbied for Indian tribal gambling interests, among other clients.

With a major lobbying roadblock out of the way, “we are now prepared to bring it back and bring about a vote,” he said.