Frank’s Internet gambling bill faces a rough passage

The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, plans to introduce his next bid to overturn the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act this (April) month...but he will not be resorting to the subterfuges adopted by UIGEA's founders in getting the bill through.

In 2006 the UIGEA was pushed through a late night session of the 109th Congress on the eve of an electoral recess and attached to the totally unrelated and must-pass Safe Ports security bill.

The Washington publication The Hill reports that Frank intends to introduce his legislation as a standalone bill and will not seek to add it to must-pass legislation. This could mean that it will be much more difficult for his measure to emerge from Congress.

Frank told The Hill that he would not emulate the Republicans' tactics in passing the UIGEA, saying it is unclear whether the gambling ban would have become law if it had been forced to stand on its own merits.

He said it would be “inappropriate” to follow the Republican example.

“That is not my intention. It would be a mistake,” Frank told The Hill. “I want to do this with hearings, discussions and votes.”

Frank first introduced the bill last Congress in April 2007. It garnered 48 co-sponsors but was not able to move out of committee and earn a floor vote in the House.

Frank said he would reintroduce the bill soon. “After the break, definitely in April,” the chairman said. Congress returns from the Easter recess during the week of April 20, which would leave the Massachusetts Democrat a little under two weeks to introduce the bill this month.

Frank’s bill would remove the ban on Internet gambling, which Republicans fought hard to institute after heavy lobbying from conservative Christian groups when they controlled Capitol Hill. His legislation would regulate the practice as well as tax it, providing new revenues for the federal government.

According to a study by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, taxing Internet gambling could produce as much as $51.9 billion in revenue for the federal government over the next 10 years. That figure could help attract votes to the bill from a number of conservative deficit hawks in the Democratic Caucus.

In an economic climate where a number of states are seeking to raise more money through expanding licensed land gambling, professional sports leagues including the NFL have joined religious groups in opposing efforts to regulate Internet gambling.

Both sides of the debate praised Frank’s pledge to move the bill as standalone legislation.

“We welcome a standalone bill, which would allow for a thorough discussion of all the issues relating to regulations and consumer protections,” said Jeffrey Sandman, a spokesman for the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, which backs Frank’s bill.

“The excitement over Congressman Frank’s bill is it would create an environment that would protect American consumers and include safeguards against underage gambling and compulsive gambling, which don’t exist right now,” Sandman said.

Officials with conservative groups that backed the Republican-authored ban on Internet gambling in 2006 also said Frank is taking the right path.

“I don’t think Republicans should have done that. We should have been courageous and put it on the floor as a standalone bill and I think we would have won, in my opinion,” said Jim Backlin, vice president of legislative affairs for the Christian Coalition of America. “I think it is good that Congressman Frank is not trying to attach [his bill] to a fast-track bill.”

Backlin said his coalition and other groups will lobby hard against Frank’s bill once it is introduced in Congress. He expressed confidence Frank’s bill will be defeated despite Democratic control of Congress. Backlin noted that dozens of House Democrats are representing districts that former President George W. Bush won in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

“That is a good chunk to work with, and we will probably get most of the Republicans. That is getting close to 218, which is what we need to defeat it,” Backlin said.

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