US Sports Leagues Back Prohibition Effort

3 February 2006

The United States' major sports leagues are urging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to co-sponsor the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (H.R. 4411). Each representative received a letter this week signed by top officials from the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Introduced to the House by Rep. James Leach , R-Iowa, in November, H.R. 4411 is similar to past manifestations of I-gaming prohibition bills in that it seeks to prohibit online gambling among the American public by making it illegal to pay for such services using credit cards, wire transfers, or any other banking instruments.

The sports leagues say they support the bill because sports wagering threatens the character of team sports.

The letter notes, "Allowing rampant sports gambling can cause a cynical and suspicious perception of athletic events, in place of the traditional American values they should represent."

It later continues, "Unfortunately there is a booming industry of offshore websites accepting bets and wagers from persons located in the United States. Because these businesses are located offshore, they usually cannot be reached through state or federal law enforcement. Easy access to Internet gambling websites and lack of law enforcement give the U.S. public a misimpression that Internet gambling is legal. This encourages widespread gambling by minors and young adults, and it holds the potential to tarnish our sports if continued unchecked."

Leach's bill had 18 co-sponsors when it was introduced in November and has since gained five more. Leach's office says the bill is almost identical to a bill Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., plans to introduce to the Senate. Both Kyl and Leach have been familiar foes to online gambling in recent years, and by introducing similar legislation, they will be able to eliminate the inefficiency of competing bills.

"We worked closely with Senator Kyl's office to eliminate the bicameral hurdle the previous bill couldn't make it over," Michael Borden, a legislative assistant to Leach, explained to IGN in November. "The Senate will pass something and then the House will pass something different. The House will act; the Senate won't and vice versa. So to eliminate one of the obstacles we faced before, we decided to work with Senator Kyl's office."

Statements from Kyl and his office since the beginning of the 109th Congress in January 2005 indicate that he is poised to introduce his bill at any moment, but so far that has yet to happen. In September 2005 Kyl unsuccessfully attempted to attach the latest version of his bill to a Commer-Justice-Science appropriations bill.

Leach's last attempt to pass a prohibitory bill was H.R. 21, which he introduced on the very first day of the legislative session that began in 2003. The bill inevitably failed after an exemption for remote horse race wagering was removed. Another bill, introduced by Rep. Spencer Bacchus (R-Ala.), emerged in its wake, however, and was successful in clearing a vote in the House, but it was never addressed by the Senate.

Borden said there are few differences between H.R. 21 (prior to the removal of the horse racing exemption) and the current Leach bill. "Everything you saw in H.R. 21 is in this bill," he said. "There might be a couple of small changes, but essentially it's the same bill."

The sports leagues' appeal to Congress to help them maintain integrity might reach lawmakers at an opportune time. The House is currently ruled by a Republican party that has been rocked by scandals of political conspiracy and corruption in recent months. One member of the party, Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Tex., recently resigned as House majority leader because he is under indictment for criminal conspiracy. Political reform has therefore become one of the hot talking points for the Republican Party lately, especially for the three contenders who sought to fill the majority leader vacancy. One of the candidates, Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., vowed that if elected he would make online gambling prohibition a priority because the legitimacy of a vote on a prohibition bill in 2000 was recently tainted by reports that DeLay and Jack Abramoff may have influenced events to ensure its failure.

Shadegg was a long-odds contender in the election for majority Leader by House Republicans and inevitably proved unsuccessful in his pursuit. The victory was expected to go to Rep. Roy Blunt, R- Mo., who had reportedly secured close to 100 of the required 117 in the election, but he was upset yesterday by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio. Blunt reportedly had close ties to DeLay and Abramoff, and many media reports speculate that by voting for Boehner House Republicans were choosing to regain a little integrity in the eyes of the American public by distancing themselves from tainted politics.

Boehner's position on I-gaming prohibition is unclear at the moment.

Click here to view the leagues' letter to members of Congress.

Bradley Vallerius

Articles by Bradley P. Vallerius, JD manages For the Bettor Good, a comprehensive resource for information related to Internet gaming policy in the U.S. federal and state governments. For the Bettor Good provides official government documents, jurisdiction updates, policy analysis, and many other helpful research materials. Bradley has been researching and writing about the business and law of internet gaming since 2003. His work has covered all aspects of the industry, including technology, finance, advertising, taxation, poker, betting exchanges, and laws and regulations around the world.

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