Amid Prohibition Push, Nevada Reps Call for Online Gambling Study

30 May 2006

Nevada lawmakers submitted a bill May 24 that would establish a commission to examine the impact of online gambling , echoing the wishes of the American Gaming Association, which last month called for such a study.

The "Internet Gaming Study Commission Act," authored by Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev.. would create a bipartisan panel consisting of nine appointed members to conduct a comprehensive study of Internet gambling. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., also had significant input on the creation of the legislation.

"Berkley has been on this issue of doing a study since 2003, when she was a cosponsor on another bill that had the same goal," David Cherry, Berkley's communications director, said. "It was different from the one introduced this week, but similar in concept."

The bill acknowledges that despite the government's prohibition of online gambling in the United States, the popularity of the activity continues to rise among American citizens.

It states, "Over the past decade, the number of Americans gambling on the Internet has risen dramatically to several million, accounting for over half of a multibillion dollar worldwide market."

The AGA last week released a whitepaper that examines the online gambling market and contemporary U.S. policies and advocates the creation of federal study commission for online gambling. The author of the report found that Internet gambling among U.S. residents is growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year.

Rep. Goodlatte's, R-Va., "Internet Gambling Prohibition Act," which seeks to update the 1961 Wire Act to specifically outlaw all forms of gambling via interactive technologies, and Leach's Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which seeks to prevent the use of certain payment instruments, credit cards and fund transfers for Internet gambling, were both approved by the House Judiciary Committee Thursday and now proceed to the House floor.

"Just because you tell people something is illegal does not guarantee that they will change their behavior," Cherry said. "Experience has shown Congresswoman Berkley that simply banning an activity is no guarantee that things will change. She is also concerned about federal intrusion into what has been, and should remain, a state issue. Those calling for a ban offer no proof that it will be effective. And as of today, there is a lack resource for enforcement."

He added that Berkley sees the study commission bill as and alternative to Goodlatte's and Leach's bills and believes strongly that Congress should take the time to study Internet gaming regulation before rushing to legislate.

The legislation proposes the nine-person commission be given 18 months to examine the legal issues associated with online gambling and make recommendations to Congress.

The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it is up to Chairman F. James Senenbrenner to decide whether it will get a hearing and/or a mark-up.

"The Congresswoman remains hopeful that her bill will be considered this session, but is realistic about the odds of that happening given the Republican Leadership in the House and their close ties to those who want to see all forms of gaming outlawed, including the Rev. James Dobson and others from the extreme right," Cherry said.

An industry source familiar with the legislation acknowledged that the bill may see co-sponsorship and that it may get some press coverage. Nevertheless, he believes it will not be the subject of any legislative action in the near future.

Berkley nevertheless remains hopeful that the more members know about the bill, the more momentum it will generate.

The legislation has 43 cosponsors: 41 Democrats and 2 Republicans.

Click here to view the Internet Gaming Study Commission Act.

Click here to view the list of co-sponsors.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.