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US Congress Committee Discusses Online Gambling

By: Joan Peppin, Wednesday October 26th 2011
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A significant development in the furtherance of online gambling in the United States took place on Tuesday October 25, when the Congressional House Energy and Commerce Committee heard several issues related to online gambling. Unfortunately, the conclusion drawn by Chairperson Mary Bono Mack was that further study would be required before any legislative proposals were acted upon.

The thrust of those favoring online gambling was as follows. Online gambling is a reality that cannot be denied despite the UIGEA. In the absence of legalized online gambling in the United States, American players are wagering at offshore sites. These players run the risk of being ripped off at unregulated online gambling sites and the American federal and state governments are losing billions of dollars in tax money. Joe Barton of Texas, who has introduced legislation for regulating online poker also stressed that poker was a skill based game. Other speakers who supported legalization of online gambling included Democrat G.K. Butterfield and Poker Players Alliance chairman Alfonso D'Amato.

One section that opposed online gambling was the state lotteries. The argument presented was legalization of online gambling would move players away from lotteries and drain dollars from the states. It was pointed out that in many cases such funds were earmarked for education. D'Amato responded by stating that the people who buy lottery tickets are generally not the same people who gamble online and therefore these segments do not compete.

Social consequences of gambling addiction figured prominently in the hearing. Keith Whyte, executive director of National Council on Problem Gambling said at least $50 million should be set aside to deal with gambling addiction. He, however, added that his organization was neutral on legalizing online gambling. Dan Romer, associate director of The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, was in favor of online gambling regulation. He said, "By controlling online gambling the federal government could minimize the harm that this activity can inflict on the young and their families."

Mack summed up by stating, "There's just way too much here that has to be fleshed out to rush it and to put it into the work of the super committee. We have to find a balance of moving it and balancing the technological problems with the policy problems." The super committee is a bipartisan committee appointed to develop ways in which to reduce the US budget deficit. The deadline for submissions to that body is November 23. The fastest way to usher a regulated online gambling regime is to have the issue on the agenda of the super committee. Industry observers subsequently noted that "further study" will make it impossible for online gambling to be on the agenda of the super committee.

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