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Tony Batt

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Anti-Gambling Foe Defends Proposal

6 Apr 2006

By Tony Batt

WASHINGTON, DC -- After originally expressing reservations about a bill that would outlaw Internet gambling, a Department of Justice official on Wednesday appeared to modify his view during a congressional hearing.

Bruce Ohr, chief of the Justice Department's organized crime and racketeering section, testified that an Internet gambling ban proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., might weaken current law by legalizing interstate betting on horse racing.

But after speaking to Goodlatte, who sat next to him during the hearing by the House Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, Ohr backed off.

"My understanding is, from what Congressman Goodlatte has stated, that it is not his intention to change (federal law prohibiting interstate betting on horse races)," Ohr said.

Ohr's shift prompted Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to grill him on the department's position on Internet gambling.

"This is a very unusual situation," Conyers said. "We've got the Department of Justice representative telling us that what he has submitted to the committee is not accurate."

Ohr, appearing to move closer to his original testimony, said the department still has concerns about the horse racing provision and hopes to have further discussions with Goodlatte.

Conyers asked Ohr to submit a revised version of his testimony to the subcommittee.

"You can't have it both ways," Conyers told Ohr.

Conyers charged Goodlatte's bill also carves out exemptions for fantasy sports leagues and state lotteries.

Goodlatte said his bill would update, not weaken a 1961 federal statute that bans the use of telephones to place bets across state lines.

"While my legislation prohibits online, interstate gambling, it does not overturn previous acts of Congress that address gambling," Goodlatte said. "This is a strong anti-gambling bill that also protects the rights of states to determine what is -- and is not -- prohibited within their borders."

Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, has introduced a similar bill that would ban the use of credit cards or check to pay for online bets. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is seeking an Internet gambling ban in the Senate.

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