The state of Indiana has moved a step closer to enacting legislation that would punish I-gaming operators and those who advertise and facilitate their services. The bill, SB 71, was passed by the Senate Monday on a 49-1 vote.
SB 71, which makes operating any online gambling site accessible by Indiana residents a felony, has been sent to the House of Representatives, where it could be discussed in committee within a month.
The bill is geared toward site operators and Internet service providers who host or advertise gambling sites.
Its chief sponsor, Sen. David Ford, said going after ISPs is the only way to combat what he feels is a free-reign industry.
''All of this Internet gambling is unregulated," Ford said. "We can't tax it. We can't control it."
The legislation would give prosecutors the authority to identify illegal gambling sites and force ISPs to remove them or make them off limits to customers in Indiana. The ISPs would then be given 30 days to either comply or face felony charges.
The bill also requires the state attorney general to maintain a list of all sites that local prosecutors flagged as illegal.
Enforcement of the felony charges would be up to local prosecutors. Ford acknowledged that enforcement would be a challenge, but emphasized that "it's an effort we need to make."
Indiana's ISPs, meanwhile, have been silent up to this point.
During the last legislative session, a similar bill passed in the Senate with equal ease before stalling in the House.
The bill could have a better fate this time, however, through a cooperative effort by Rep. Jerry Denbo, who is preparing to introduce a House bill addressing interactive gambling.
Denbo initially said he was willing to broaden Indiana's gaming laws and regulations to set up an Internet gaming control board.
"I will let a board of people decide how to regulate," he said last month. "People that know a lot more about this issue than I do can make those decisions."
But now Denbo is willing to merge his bill into the more restrictive Ford bill.
"If I have to merge my bill into his I will," he said. "I don't care about who gets credit for passing it or anything, something needs to be done to get this under control."
Sen. Lindel Hume was the only senator who voted against the bill. He told the Associated Press after the vote that the bill would ''be virtually impossible'' to enforce. He also said he's concerned that the General Assembly is too quick to create new crimes and enhance penalties for existing ones.
"We need to put more thought into these things," he said.
One area in which Ford has backed off is penalizing the casual bettor. SB 71 originally empowered prosecutors to charge Hoosiers who gamble online with a Class D felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. But members of the Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee removed that provision from the bill. Illegal gambling, including gambling with a Web-based casino, is currently a misdemeanor in Indiana.
Denbo, who was unavailable for comment today, told IGN last week after the bill passed through the committee that he wanted to take it up within a month of its arrival in the House.
If the House passes the bill as is, it will go straight for to the Governor, but if the House amends the bill, it will go back to the Senate for approval.
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