U.S. Congress passes anti-Internet gambling bill

The U.S. Congress passed an amended version of H.R. 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), Sept. 30 after it was attached to an unrelated Homeland Security bill, the Port Security Improvement Act (H.R. 4954). The bill is expected to be signed into law by President George W. Bush by mid-October.

Despite expectations that the U.S. Senate would block the legislation due to a lack of parliamentary time, Senate Majority leader Bill Frist (R - Tenn.) managed to negotiate the passage of the amended H.R. 4411 by attaching it to H.R. 4954, a bill intended to increase security at U.S. ports. Frist had first attempted to attach the bill to defence legislation in Sept., but failed.

The amended version doesn't criminalize the act of online gambling, rather it prohibits American poker players from using U.S. financial institutions and their banking tools, including credit cards, checks or funds transfers, when depositing or withdrawing funds at Internet gambling sites. If the law is enacted by President Bush, it will become illegal for online gambling companies to accept monies from U.S. financial institutions.

Frist made the following statement after the Senate passed H.R. 4411:

"Gambling is a serious addiction that undermines the family, dashes dreams, and frays the fabric of society. Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we've watched this shadow industry explode. For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal. Although we can't monitor every online gambler or regulate offshore gambling, we can police the financial institutions that disregard our laws."

Transactions will be monitored by U.S. banking institutions according to regulations written by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Department of Treasury. If President Bush signs the act into law, a 270-day period will be allotted for the Federal Reserve and Department of Treasury to create regulations and procedures for U.S. financial institutions to follow in identifying and blocking transactions related to unlawful Internet gambling. Currently, it is expected that the U.S. banking industry will not be required to implement new technologies to monitor the transactions of clients, but will act in accordance with their own capabilities instead.

The original H.R. 4411 was amalgamated with another anti-Internet gambling act, H.R. 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, in July 2006. Subsequently known as the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act, H.R. 4411 not only sought to prohibit Internet gambling transactions made through American financial institutions, but also to update the Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits gambling over telephone wires, to include placing wagers on sports betting, casino and poker Web sties. Internet wagers made on state-run lotteries, fantasy games and horse racing were exempt.

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