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Online gambling law regs revealed

Unfinished business for late law

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The US Treasury Department (DoT), in consultation with the Department of Justice, last week finally released proposed regulations for enforcement of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

The UIGEA wreaked havoc on the internet gambling industry when it was passed last October, and the proposed regulations are more than three months late.

The proposed regulations call for a six month comment period from the payment processing industry, and in truth, actual implementation will come some time after that to allow the Treasury to analyse the comments. It seems likely that actual implementation of the most influential unenforced law in American history will not happen until mid-2008 at the very earliest.

Of course, the damage has been done, with most of the gambling companies having fled the American market long ago, leaving a trail of angry customers and decimated share prices in their wake. The law put the onus on banks and other merchants in the processing industry to block restricted transactions with internet gambling companies. Banks and those in the cheque processing industry complained vociferously about having to check some transactions manually, and the DoT seems to have taken those concerns to heart.

As proposed, the regulations restrict implementation of the law to those in the processing industry who have any kind of hope of deciphering the origins of the transaction in question. International transactions pass through multiple parties on their way to a final deposit, and the regulations essentially cut out middlemen and those on the backend of the transaction who have no connection with the original suspect transaction.

The law also has a catch-all opt-out provision for those companies that can demonstrate to the DoT that the law would impose an undue hardship.

The regulations, long overdue, seem to say as much about an ambivalent regulatory attitude at the DoT as they do about the merits of the law itself. The proposed regulations add a regulatory burden and criminal liability that have nothing to do with industry malfeasance and have been opposed strongly by the very industry they regulate, and the proposals seem designed as much to placate the industry as to prevent suspect transactions.

With WTO claims mounting fast, it almost seems like a stalling tactic by a dissatisfied bureaucracy.

As many are starting to realise, the real battle is at the WTO.®

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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