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Tony Batt

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Frank pushing for regulation of Web betting

27 Apr 2007

By Tony Batt

WASHINGTON, DC – (PRESS RELEASE) -- U.S. Rep. Barney Frank on Thursday introduced legislation to repeal the Internet gambling ban approved by Congress last year, but the bill faces long odds.

Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said his bill would require the Department of Treasury to license and regulate Internet gambling companies so Americans could bet legally online.

The committee scheduled a hearing on Frank's bill for June.

At least two other bills that would roll back the Internet gambling ban -- including one by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. -- are expected to be introduced within weeks.

The ban prohibits the use of credit cards and other bank instruments to pay for online wagers.

Congress passed the ban after it was attached to a port security bill in the closing days of last year's session.

Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, described the ban as "an intrusion on individual liberty."

"The issue here is whether adults who work for their money ... in the comfort of their homes, should be allowed to engage in a form of recreation which they enjoy and which has no conceivable negative impact on anybody else," Frank said.

But he acknowledged that the Democratic leadership of the House likely would not support it. The Bush administration also could oppose the legislation.

Internet gambling is a $13 billion industry licensed in more than 50 countries, according to Frank's bill.

Frank said the ban violates America's obligations under the World Treaty Organization.

"Incidentally, some of my colleagues who tell us that we can't interfere with the World Trade Organization for global warming or the rights of workers are perfectly prepared to ignore it on behalf of interfering with people's right to gamble," Frank said.

To pay for regulation by the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, Frank's bill would require Internet gambling companies to pay unspecified fees for a one-year license, which could be renewed.

The Treasury Department is expected to release regulations within days to enforce the ban that Congress approved last year.

Frank said he has not received any feedback from the Treasury Department about his bill.

"I assumed they were against it, so I didn't bother asking them," he said.

Las Vegas casinos pay federal taxes, Frank said, and requiring Internet gambling regulation fees would not be dramatically different.

"The federal government lost its anti-gambling virginity many years before I came here," Frank said.

Joining Frank at Thursday's news conference to unveil the bill was Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who voted for the ban last year, but is one of 11 co-sponsors of Frank's bill to repeal it.

"I was not an enthusiastic supporter of (the ban), but I did feel that there was a void in regulation and wanted to send a signal," King said. "But I am strongly supporting this (Frank's bill) because this does, for the first time, send a voice for a strong regulatory framework at the federal level."

Berkley also is co-sponsoring Frank's bill and plans to introduce her own version as early as next week.

Berkley and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., will propose legislation calling for a one-year study of Internet gambling by the National Academy of Sciences.

Berkley has reversed her position on Internet gambling since voting to ban it in July 2000.

"I became convinced that technology exists that could provide safeguards to protect children from betting online and limiting the amount of money bet online," she said.

Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., also intends to unveil legislation that would exempt online poker from the Internet gambling ban.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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