Oregon to Turn Cold on Internet Gambling?

13 March 2001
Two separate Internet gambling prohibition bills have been introduced in Oregon. One tackles the payment methods used for playing online and would permit financial institutions to collect on Internet gambling debts. The other, which also focuses on payment methods, would make it illegal to gamble over the Internet or to operate illegal Net betting sites.

The first bill, Senate Bill 755, is sponsored by Sen. Rick Metsger. The bill would prohibit the use of credit cards, checks or electronic funds transfers to collect Internet gambling debts. Violators would face fines of up to $100,000, five years in prison or both. Financial institutions, which would be exempt under SB 755, may also collect any gambling debts incurred. (Current state law makes gambling debts un-collectable.)

Metsger examined Internet gambling prohibition legislation in Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Nevada, South Dakota and Louisiana while putting together his case, explained spokesman Jon Pugsley.

"Even though those bills passed," Pugsley said, "the states are not able to really enforce them." He said that the state Attorney's General office and state lottery officials support the bill.

SB 755 has gained substantial support from local financial organizations. "Without the capability of blocking all gaming Web site from credit card access and continually tracking the gambling Web site codes for changes and additions, credit unions may be caught holding the debt," Credit Union Association of Oregon spokeswoman Pam Leavitt told the Associated Press.

Leavitt also said that state credit unions have been seeing more online gambling debts.

A lobbyist for the Oregon Bankers Association, Tim Martinez, said that online gambling sites mislead financial institutions by using incorrect billing codes to avoid being labeled as an Internet gaming site. "They could call themselves mom and dad's apple pie shop," he said.

Merchants that do this are courting trouble, however, according to Steve Fein with Signature Card Services. "The penalties are enormous," he said. Violators, in fact, could be hit with fines up to $25,000 per violation.

Plus, violators could be caught in the act pretty easily. "Is it being monitored (by the issuing banks)?" You bet!" Fein said. Typically, the financial institutions use a "secret shopper" to check out various gaming sites, then back track the transaction numbers to find out who was trying to get around the credit card transaction identifiers.

SB 775 was introduced on February 20 and referred to the Information Management and Technology Committee, of which Metsger is a member, on the next day. The bill was discussed at a public hearing March 9, with another hearing likely to be scheduled soon.

The competing bill, introduced on February 12 by Rep. Bill Witt, is House Bill 2823. After its first reading, HB 2823 was referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Witt's bill has not garnered support from banking associations because it doesn't make gambling debts collectable. The bill also punishes players for unlawful Internet gambling with imprisonment of up to one year, $5,000 fine or both. Operators of websites that offer unlawful Internet gambling could be hit with up to $100,000 fines, five years' imprisonment or both.

Witt did not return calls for comments on his bill.

What makes the efforts particularly striking is that Oregon has long been perceived as a pro-gambling state and one of the friendliest U.S. jurisdictions for online gambling. In 1997, the state enacted legislation that authorized account wagering whereby players deposit money and then bet "in person, by direct telephone call or by communication through other electronic media.

With the legislation in place, interactive racing channel Television Games Network (TVG) was licensed by the Oregon Racing Commission to operate an account wagering hub in the state. More recently, Ohio betting site Winticket.com announced its intention to shift operations to Oregon where officials were more receptive to account wagering via the Internet. Representatives for the two operators were unavailable for comment.

Click here to read Senate Bill 755.
Click here to read House Bill 2823.