House Slot Online Member Eyes Internet Betting Bill

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The former chairman of the House Banking Committee reintroduced a bill this week to ban the use of checks, credit cards and wire transfers to pay for Internet gambling.

 

The bill by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, could be the vehicle Congress chooses to control Internet gambling, an industry with revenues that the Wall Street investment banking firm of Bear, Stearns & Co., projects will climb from $1.48 billion last year to $6 billion by 2003.

 

Leach’s decision to resurrect the bill Monday came as a surprise to the casino industry and lawmakers who co-sponsored the measure last year.

 

So far, this year’s bill does not include any co-sponsors. The casino industry, which backed Leach’s proposal last year, says it needs to review it before taking a position.

 

“He tried to keep this bill moving as chairman and obviously, he wants to pursue it,” said Bill Tate, Leach’s chief of staff. “Whether it becomes the vehicle for Internet gambling is probably more for the new leadership of the committee to determine.”

 

Leach’s bill passed the House Banking Committee by voice vote last June, but did not come up for a final vote on the House floor.

 

Leach remains on the panel, now known as the House Financial Services Committee. Republican term limits forced him to surrender his chairmanship to Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio. Leach is now vice chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on domestic monetary policy.

 

The credit card ban proposed by Leach is considered by some analysts to be more practical than a bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., which would prohibit Internet gambling altogether.

 

Others say Leach’s bill contains the enforcement mechanism that could make an Internet gambling ban work. There was talk last year of merging the two bills but it never happened.

 

Goodlatte spokeswoman Michelle Semones said she is not aware of plans to combine both bills this year. “We are obviously supportive of (Leach’s) efforts to combat illegal online gambling,” she said.

 

Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said earlier this month he planned to reintroduce the credit card ban that he co-sponsored with Leach last year.

 

A LaFalce spokeswoman said Tuesday he will have to look at Leach’s new bill before deciding if he will support it or offer his own version.

 

Wayne Mehl, a Washington lobbyist for the Nevada Resort Association, said his organization did not take a position on Leach’s bill last year although it backed Goodlatte’s bill to prohibit Internet gambling.

 

“I don’t know what we’ll do this year,” he said. “It will be up to the board.”

 

The House Slot Online Banking Committee endorsed Leach’s bill last year after an amendment by Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., clarified that the credit card ban would apply only to illegal gaming, according to association vice president John Shelk.

 

Shelk said his group would not take a position on Leach’s bill until after reviewing it.

 

“The bill would save Internet service providers a lot of heartburn by focusing enforcement on credit card companies,” Shelk said.

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