U.S. officials race to finalise UIGEA regulations

Achieving wide coverage across the stock markets and business sites as the week ended was a Dow Jones business report that the controversial regulations supporting the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act have been finalised. The news comes after widespread political and financial services criticism that the initial draft of the regulations lacked practicality and precision.

The UIGEA prohibits financial transactions with 'illegal' online gambling companies, placing the burden of enforcement on the US financial services industry.

According to the Dow Jones report, the US Treasury is trying to push the regulations through after months of difficult drafting in the hope of finalising the issue before the Bush administration leaves office at the end of the year. The Treasury Department forwarded the final regulations to the Office of Management and Budget on October 21, a necessary step towards implementation. The report describes the move as standard practice for outgoing administrations to finalise controversial regulations before leaving office, a practice known as a midnight drop.

The UIGEA law as drafted by Congress in late 2006 includes exemptions for horse race betting, interstate online lotteries and betting on fantasy sports, and was passed as a last-minute attachment to an unrelated but essential security bill in the final hours of the Republican controlled Congress at the time.

Since then the law has been responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to major listed companies forced to pull out of the US market, and has been the subject of thousands of column inches of media criticism, Congressional hearings, law suits, legislative proposals seeking to overturn or modify its provisions and general widespread criticism from a diversity of interested parties. Federal Reserve managers have been among the many who have expressed reservations about the implementation of the Act and the difficulties of drafting effective regulations to support it.

The Dow Jones report notes that draft rules published by the Treasury in October 2007 don't define what would be considered an illegal transaction, and there has been much confusion as to what types of online gambling would be rendered illegal.

Banks have warned they may block all online gambling transactions rather than try to determine which ones are illegal. An official from the Federal Reserve testified before Congress in April that the draft regulations created considerable uncertainty.

One organisation vehemently opposed to pushing the regulations through in this manner is the Poker Players Alliance. Executive Director John Pappas told Dow Jones: "It's really remarkable that this administration would try to push this out given the burden it would place on financial institutions at this time of financial crisis."

Pappas is meeting Friday with officials from the Office of Management and Budget, whose job it is to formally implement the regulations, in a last ditch effort to prevent them from being put on the books. He wants officials to wait until President-elect Barack Obama's administration takes office in January to allow for a thorough review of the potential impact of the rules.

A Treasury spokeswoman did not return phone calls seeking comment by Dow Jones.

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