The debate on Capitol Hill rages on over health care reform, which, according to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), will likely come with a nearly $1 trillion price tag. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) proposed using internet gambling revenue to defray some of the cost, but withdrew his amendment this week.

In a column that appeared in the Deseret News, Hatch noted, “At a time when we have trillion-dollar-plus deficits and an unemployment rate reaching double digits, [this health care reform] is a colossal mistake I cannot support.” With the massive cost turning many off, Wyden suggested using tax revenue from Congressman Barney Frank’s (D-MA) Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act (HR 2267). The bill establishes a full licensing and regulatory framework for the internet gambling industry in the United States.

Michael Waxman, spokesperson for the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, commented in a press release shortly after the amendment was introduced, “We applaud Senator Wyden’s proposal to collect and put to good use tens of billions in internet gambling revenue that would otherwise be lost in the underground marketplace. The Senate Finance Committee should approve this resolution, finally putting to an end a failed prohibition on Internet gambling that leaves Americans unprotected and unlicensed offshore operators as the only beneficiary in a thriving marketplace.”

HR 2267 was introduced in May and has attracted 58 cosponsors, the newest of which are William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Christopher Murphy (D-CT), and Adam Schiff (D-CA). Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) Chairman Joe Brennan told Poker News Daily, “There are not many places you can go to find ‘free money’ right now. Internet gambling is one of them. You’re not going to have many industries wanting to be taxed.” Also in Congress is HR 2268, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act. The measure, introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), assesses a tax of 2% of deposits on licensed internet gambling outfits in the United States. HR 2268 was introduced on the same day as HR 2267 and has attracted four cosponsors.

A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicated that over $60 billion could be generated from taxing the internet gambling industry over a 10 year period. However, that figure includes legalized online wagering on sports. On Wednesday, “The Hill” published an article noting that Wyden had withdrawn his proposed amendment. The Senator’s Communications Director told the publication, “The last thing Senator Wyden wants to do is make it more difficult to expand subsidies for working families by introducing a new contentious issue to the debate. So when he offers the amendment, he will do it with other funding mechanisms.”

Wyden’s attempt to demonstrate tangible uses for internet gambling revenue comes on the heels of McDermott’s introduction of HR 6501 in July of 2008. McDermott’s bill, dubbed the Investing in Our Human Resources Act, provided up to $40 billion in assistance for those currently or formerly in foster care and those in declining job markets. HR 6501 was not acted on during the 110th Congress. McDermott’s proposal was not well-received, as Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) labeled it “a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.” Former Congressman Jon Porter (R-NV) piled on, saying that HR 6501 marked “a frivolous attack on the gaming community to pay for services that local governments, states, and the federal government should already be providing.”

Last month, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced S 1597, the Internet Poker and Games of Skill Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act. The bill, as its name implies, focuses on licensing games such as poker, bridge, chess, mahjong, and backgammon “in which success is predominantly determined by the skill of the players.” Menendez’s measure has not attracted any cosponsors.

Congress is targeting October 30th as its adjournment date for the 2009 calendar year.

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