Internet Gambling Discussed in House Financial Services Committee
On Thursday morning, the subject of internet gambling took center stage in an informative hearing in the House Financial Services Committee, Chaired by Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA). Seven witnesses participated.
The hearing began with Frank candidly stating, “It is nice to be able to think legislatively about other things besides the financial crisis, which has consumed this Committee since September of 2008.” It was over one year ago, just before the world’s economy crumbled, that internet gambling was last discussed in the Committee. Frank added, “There are a whole range of things on the internet that we would not like underage people to use. The notion that because some people abuse something, you prevent everyone from doing it is as great of a threat to the individual as any cause I have ever seen.” He went on to cite smoking, video games, and dieting as activities that people abuse.
The Committee’s Ranking Member, Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL), summed up many of the opposing arguments for legislation like HR 2266 and HR 2267. The former delays compliance with the regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) by one year, while the latter establishes a comprehensive framework for licensing and regulating the industry in the United States. Bachus asserted, “I believe that internet gambling is, has been, and will continue to be a substantial threat to our youth. Any economic benefits from taxing internet gambling would be more than offset by the harm it causes young people.” He then sourced a New York Times Letter to the Editor from a mother lamenting her son’s turn to internet gambling.
Bachus expressed remorse that the regulations of the UIGEA had not been fully implemented, citing last week’s six-month delay of their compliance: “These regulations should have been finalized and implemented more than two years ago. The House voted by an overwhelming number to stop illegal internet gambling. Chairman [Frank], it’s time for you, the Treasury, and the Fed to stop delaying the will of the great majority of this Congress and the American people.
Bachus noted that the Treasury and Federal Reserve, who granted the six-month compliance reprieve, should have been a part of Thursday’s witness panel. The Alabama Congressman quoted a letter from the FBI he received in November stating, “The FBI warns that technology exists to manipulate online poker games. The FBI rejects claims from vendors that they can validate age and location.” Frank retorted that he had not received a request from Bachus for the Treasury or Federal Reserve to be present, but later recanted his statement, referencing an e-mail from the Ranking Member’s staff late Tuesday afternoon. Both agreed that the Federal Reserve and Treasury should testify at a future hearing.
Seven witnesses each spoke for about five minutes, offering different viewpoints on the issue. Robert Martin, Tribal Chairman of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, noted that tribes were not consulted in the extension of the UIGEA deadline and “By following the law, we are now facing unfair competition because of these bills. Allow the regulatory scheme [currently in place] to protect what we have built.”
Parry Aftab, Executive Director of Wired Safety, candidly explained, “It’s ironic that I am sitting here today saying that the only way to protect consumers is by legalizing it. If we don’t legalize it, we can’t regulate it.” She referenced a study by Professor Malcolm Sparrow from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who explained, “Legalization with regulation would provide U.S. authorities the power to grant or deny licenses.” He added that HR 2267 is an “adequate framework” in which to operate.
Keith Whyte, Executive Director for the National Council on Problem Gambling, remarked, “While participation in internet gambling by U.S. residents appeared to decline after the passage of the UIEGA, we did not see a decrease in indicators of gambling problems, such as help line calls.” A chart submitted by Whyte showed that help line calls instead gradually increased every year since 2006, when the UIGEA was approved.
Jim Dowling from the Dowling Advisory Group lent his insight into fraud, money laundering, and terrorism, while Mike Brodsky, Executive Chairman of YouBet.com, discussed the presumably legal online horse racing market. The legality of online horse racing was discussed at length, with Frank noting that the Department of Justice said it was against the law in 2006. Brodsky added that 88% of online horse racing wagers are transmitted across state lines electronically, which Frank also questioned the legality of.
Also speaking was Samuel Vallandingham, Chief Information Officer and Vice President for The First State Bank in West Virginia. Interestingly, Vallandingham was the only financial services industry representative present and explained, “The added burden [of enforcing the UIGEA] would drain our resources… The law doesn’t define unlawful internet gambling. As a result, the burden rests solely on financial institutions.”
After 90 minutes, the hearing adjourned, with Frank noting that the Committee would take up the issue again in 2010. No markup vote on HR 2266 or HR 2267 was scheduled.
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