The U.S. House Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (HR 4411) is scheduled for markup by the Committee on Financial Services on Wednesday. It is anticipated that the bill, introduced by Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa, in November, will be reported and subsequently referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Committee markup is a very early stage of a bill's life, so there is little reason for the online gaming industry to panic. The legislation is one of eight bills marked for consideration Wednesday by the full 70-member Financial Services Committee.
The Financial Services Committee is chaired by Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, who has been a staunch foe of online gambling over the years. Leach also happens to be a member of the Financial Services Committee, as is another noted foe of online gaming, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala. Six of the bill's 32 cosponsors, including Reps. Leach and Bachus, sit on the committee. Although he has fought for online gambling prohibition bills in the past, Oxley is not a cosponsor of the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Another noteworthy member of the Financial Services Committee is Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., who has on more than one action spoken up as an opponent to claims by some of his colleagues who seek to prohibit online gambling. It was Frank who offered a jesting remark about Al Queda being big gamblers when Oxley attempted to attach an online gambling prohibition bill to an anti-terrorism bill in September of 2004. Frank was also part of a Cato Institute panel in October 2003 that examined issues surrounding online gambling policy.
The Financial Services Committee will more than likely report HR 4411 and refer it to the House Judiciary Committee. It is uncertain what future awaits the bill there.
Chaired by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R- Wis., the 39-member House Judiciary Committee seats four of HR 4411's 32 cosponsors.
It is thought that the Judiciary Committee would prefer the alternative online gambling bill, The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (HR 4777), which was introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Feb. 16 and has already attained 118 cosponsors, 17 of whom sit on the Judiciary Committee. Only one Democrat who cosponsors HR 4777 sits on the Judiciary Committee, and that is Rep. Rick Boucher, R-Va., who was present at Leach's press conference introducing the bill. Boucher and Leach hailed the bill as a bi-partisan effort; however, a glance at the bill's sponsorship list reveals few Democrats.
Reps. Boucher and Goodlatte both sit on the Judiciary Committee, as does Bachus. Other noteworthy members include ranking Democrat Rep. John Conyers, Jr., D-Mich., and Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, who played major roles in the defeat of a prohibition bill in 2000.
While the Judiciary Committee may prefer HR 4777 over HR 4411, there is no assurance that the committee would not favorably report HR 4411. Whereas H.R. 4411 would focus efforts on blocking the payment mechanisms used to fund online gambling accounts, H.R. 4777 would update the Wire Act to clarify that unauthorized casino gaming and gambling performed via remote means are illegal. The bills offer two different methods of prohibiting online gambling, but would not work contrary to one another.
Goodlatte's office told IGN in February that it is supportive of Leach's bill and that it believes the two bills are complementary.