US Law Roundup - March 2008

7 March 2008

Staying on top of interactive gambling bills as they move through the United States' federal and state legislatures no longer entails hours of research, thanks to this monthly update on U.S. state and federal legislation.

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State Legislation

Massachusetts: HD4626

Summary - HD4626, the Resort Casino Bill, proposed on Oct. 11 by Gov. Deval Patrick, would authorize the construction of three resort casinos within Massachusetts. Buried within the bill, however, is a clause banning Internet gambling activity from within and outside the commonwealth, making it a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or a fine of not more than $25,000, or both.

Status - Upon its introduction, the bill was sent to the House Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies for public hearings and review. It is still in committee.

Outlook - While, the State Assembly has yet to take an official position on the matter, a recent study into the economic benefits of the three resorts found that Patrick's promise of thousands of new jobs and billions of fresh dollars is feasible.

New York: A3434

Summary - A3434 would amend sections 225.00 & 225.15 of the New York penal law and add SS225.45 & 225.50 as it relates to possession of electronic or computerized gambling records and computerized gambling. The bill aims to prohibit the use of computer systems or storage media, including the Internet, in furtherance of illegal gambling or possession of gambling records.

Status - The measure was introduced on Jan. 27, 2007 by Rep. Sam Hoyt and referred to the Committee on Codes, but had seen no movement since until Jan. 9, 2008 when it was again referred to the same committee.

Outlook - This bill is similar to S66, which is also currently in Codes. An industry legal expert suggested that once a bill is referred to Codes, it has a good chance of passing.

New York: S66

Summary - S66 would amend section 225.00 of the New York penal law as it relates to gambling over the Internet within provisions of law relating to gambling offenses. The amended sections would include "Advance gambling activity," which includes persons that aid in the advancement of an illegal gambling activity, including Internet gambling.

Status - The measure was pre-filed in the Senate on Jan. 3, 2007 by Sens. Frank Padavan, Mary Lou Rath and Dale Volker. By Jan. 23 it had passed the Senate and was delivered to the Assembly where it was referred to the Committee on Codes, often the most powerful committee in any state legislature. However, S66 died in the Assembly on Jan. 9, 2008 and was returned to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Committee on Codes.

Outlook - The Committee on Codes is chaired by Sen. Volker, whose presence gives the measure a good chance of passing. On the other hand, the bill died once in session.

New Jersey: A995

Summary - A995 would authorize licensed land-based casinos in New Jersey to offer their games via the Internet.

Status - Sponsored by Assemblymen Vincent Prieto and Neil Cohen, A995 is the latest version of a bill that has appeared in the state's last three legislative sessions. A995 was introduced on Jan. 10, 2006 and referred to the Assembly Tourism and Gaming Committee. It has not moved since.

Outlook - Unlike a similar I-gaming bill that passed Nevada's legislature in 2001, this bill, in its three previous manifestations in New Jersey, has failed to garner much support among legislators and casino operators. Furthermore, the New Jersey Legislative session ends in four months. It is likely A995 will die in session.

New Jersey: S746

Summary - Senate Bill 746, authored by Sen. Richard Codey, is identical to Senate Bill 1106 of the 2006-2007 legislative session, 1013 of the 2004- 2005 session and 2376 from the 2002-2003 session, which Codey also authored. The bill broadens the definition of illegal gambling to include Internet gambling and voids credit card debt incurred through illegal gambling. The bill also includes a clause establishing that only the state may sue to recover gambling losses.

Status - The bill was introduced and referred to the Senate Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee on Jan. 8, 2008 and has not moved since.

Outlook - Codey became president of the Senate at the beginning of the 2005-2006 session, so it would seem that any bill with his name on it ought to be taken somewhat seriously. Nonetheless, this is the fourth incarnation of his bill and the first three didn't even make it out of committee.

Federal Legislation

HR 2046 - The Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act

Summary - HR 2046, authored by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., proposes not to repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act (UIGEA), but to defend companies against it. The UIGEA would remain in place, in that banks and credit card companies would still be prevented from doing business with illegal online gaming operators, but HR 2046 proposes a federal licensing and regulation regime for offshore Internet gambling companies that would be overseen by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

Status - The bill, introduced on April 26, was referred to the House Financial Services Committee, of which Frank is the chair, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In June, the bill was debated in the House Financial Services Committee and has since gained 27 co-sponsors, bringing the total to 46. Frank announced today that he will hold a hearing in early April to explore the burden on U.S. financial institutions to comply with the UIGEA. The hearing comes in response to the hundreds of comments made to the publication of the draft UIGEA regulations.

Outlook - HR 2046 has received a lot of attention from groups opposed to I-gaming regulation. Two coalitions, one faith-based and one made up of American sports leagues, have written letters to the Members of Congress asking them to oppose the bill and any other similar legislation. On the other hand, the bill has received support from EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who visited Washington in November to discuss the U.S. I-gaming ban.

HR 2140 - The Internet Gaming Study Act

Summary - HR 2140, introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., proposes a one-year study on Internet gambling to be conducted by the National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences.

Status - Berkley submitted HR 2140 late on May 3 and it was referred to the Committees on the Judiciary, House Financial Services, and Ways and Means. On June 4, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. HR 2140 has 68 co-sponsors.

Outlook - HR 2140 is backed by the American Gaming Association, which has long called for this type of study. One industry expert said that this study could go a long way in getting Congress to take Frank's bill seriously. And, this being an election year, the Democratic candidates offered their views on Internet gambling while campaigning in Las Vegas in January. Sen. Hillary Clinton supports the idea a studying Internet gambling to see whether it can be fairly regulated, while Sen. John Edwards opposes legalization because he doubts whether it can be controlled. Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama, like Clinton, supports a study, and supports regulation because he worries that the Internet is a "Wild West of illegal activity," according to the Las Vegas Sun.

HR 5523 - The Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act of 2008

Summary - Introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., HR 5523 is the new version of last year's H.R. 2607. It is the tax counterpart to H.R. 2046 and would create a 2 percent tax on Internet gambling deposits, with half earmarked to federal government and half earmarked to the state government. The new version also includes an enhanced reporting mechanism under which licensed gambling operators are required to provide each customer an annual statement of winnings and losses.

Status - HR 5523 was introduced on March 4 and referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means. The bill has no cosponsors at this time.

Outlook - In its previous form, HR 5523 faced opposition from religious and family groups who have asked Members of Congress to vote against any Internet gambling related legislation. On the other hand, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that between 2008 and 2017, if the United States were with certain conditions to enact both bills, estimated revenue derived from individual income taxes, wagering tax, licensing fees and corporate income tax could total between $8.7 billion and $17.6 billion.

HR 2610 - The Skill Games Protection Act

Summary - HR 2610 would exempt skill games like poker, mahjong, bridge and backgammon from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Status - HR 2610 was introduced on June 7 and referred to the Committee on Financial Services and the Committees on the Judiciary, and Energy and Commerce. On July 16, the bill was referred to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. The bill has 21 co-sponsors as of Dec. 19, 2007.

Outlook - Such an exemption would theoretically allow for the return of online poker providers, exiled after the legislation was enacted in October, to the U.S. marketplace. The legislation, according to Wexler spokesman Josh Rogin, "allows Americans to play poker online as they should have every right to do."