Congressman Barney Franks's latest attack on the UIGEA - HR6870 Payments System Protection Act - has passed its mark-up stage in the House Financial Services Committee and is on its way to the House, after heated debate and a positive vote of 30 - 19 this week.
The House Financial Services Committee began the markup procedure Tuesday with arch anti-Internet gambling critic Spencer Bachus of Alabama denouncing the measure and extensive debate among several Congressmen both for and against the proposal, which seeks to suspend any regulations of the UIGEA "except to the extent as any such regulation pertains to wagering of the type that is prohibited (as of the date of the enactment of this Act) under chapter 178 of title 28, United States Code (relating to professional and amateur sports protection)."
The bill and an adopted amendment also stops banks and other US financial institutions from allowing betting on professional sports leagues. In addition, the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve are required to work together with an independent Administrative Law Judge to define illegal online gambling.
At one stage Bachus revealed that national sports leagues had informed him that they were in opposition to HR 6870. Congressman and Democrat William Lacy Clay responded, "I'm alarmed that major league sports would come forward to announce their opposition to the bill. I'm puzzled by their stance especially when you have legal sports books in Las Vegas. I can't figure out what the difference is between internet gambling and Las Vegas sports books is."
Turning to the UIGEA itself, Lacy continued: "Sometimes we should be willing to admit when we made a mistake and passed a law that's unenforceable."
Frank criticised the inequity and confusion in US law pertaining to online gambling, again drawing attention to notorious exemptions for horse racing, state lotteries and fantasy sports and commenting that that whether betting on horse racing is legal depends on what department you asked.
He also repeated his oft-stated stance on Internet gambling by commenting: "How people spend their leisure time should not be made illegal or encouraged in a free society. If you're going to [impose restrictions using the UIGEA], you're hijacking the banking system. If this bill is passed, I would still like to repeal the law. Under this bill, at least the banks will know what is and isn't illegal."
An amendment to the bill was introduced by Frank himself, calling for a detailed list from federal authorities within sixty days on what activities are and are not legal under the UIGEA. Federal officials have in the past admitted to some difficulty in this drafting area. The list would be used to provide a guide to financial institutions which Congress has charged with enforcing the UIGEA.
Pressure group the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative's spokesman Jeffrey Sandman said, "This important vote acknowledges that the previous attempt to prohibit Internet gambling was overly burdensome and unworkable. We hope this vote indicates a willingness of Congress to develop a more sensible approach towards Internet gambling. Rather than prohibit an activity millions of Americans enjoy in the privacy of their homes, just as they can do in a casino, Congress should create a framework to regulate Internet gambling as a way to protect consumers and collect billions in much-needed federal revenue."