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Rep. Barney Frank takes a gamble on online wagering

Sticks it to the UIGEA

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House of Cards It's official- outspoken Massachusetts representative Barney Frank unveiled sweeping legislation yesterday that would not only repeal the unpopular Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) but also provide clear-cut regulation for an industry that has been expanding rapidly outside of the United States or gone underground within American shores.

“The existing legislation is an inappropriate interference on the personal freedom of Americans and this interference should be undone,” Frank stated on his website.

The legislation covers all of its bases, with opt-outs for state jurisdictions that don’t want a regulated online gaming environment and ample provision for containing the perceived social ills associated with the gambling industry. The Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007, as it’s officially known, addresses concerns (some well-founded, some not) about potential money laundering, compulsive gambling and underage gambling.

Heretofore there has been no generalized federal gambling law – the laws under which those in the internet gambling industry have been prosecuted are a patchwork of laws written in the early sixties to prevent loan sharking and money laundering by the mafia. Indeed, the only type of gambling explicitly prohibited has been wagering on sports events (other than horse racing) over interstate phone lines. Even sports wagering will be allowed if the bill becomes law, provided that the affected industries sign off on the bill.

As the press release notes, “the Act establishes a federal regulatory and enforcement framework to license companies to accept bets and wagers online from individuals in the U.S., to the extent permitted by individual states, Indian tribes and sport leagues. All such licenses would include protections against underage gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering and fraud.”

The legislation is a welcome breath of fresh air. The histrionics of social conservatives over the perceived ills of gambling led to an ill-conceived UIGEA bill that had to be rushed through in the middle of the night, like some kind of drug deal. Frank’s bill would eliminate whatever gray area exists in federal law concerning the internet gambling industry.

Whether or not reason will prevail in both houses of Congress could be a bit of a long shot - not to mention navigating a potential Bush veto.

At the very least, the online gambling industry is getting the open debate it should have gotten last year when the UIGEA snuck through on the back of an unrelated port security bill.®

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