epresentative Barney Frank has proposed legislation that would overturn the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, but the lawmakers and his colleagues have been too busy with the country's financial struggle to attack the online gambling issue.
Frank has vowed that the discussions will happen, but now that the year is coming to an end, it appears more and more likely that 2010 will be the key year for these discussions. Support is growing, however, for changes to US laws.
He made his case this week for repealing the UIGEA and creating regulated online gambling environment in a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. "The notion that this Congress should tell millions of adult Americans that we know better than they what they should with their own money on their own time on their own computer seems to me to be a very grave error," said Frank, who chairs the committee.
"It is true if things are the Internet, there is the possibility that underage people can get at them," Frank said in his opening remarks. "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 will abuse something, you prevent everybody from doing it, is as great a threat to the liberty of the individual as any philosophy I have seen."
Frank also criticized Republican opposition to repealing the UIGEA, saying it was incompatible with conservative philosophy. "I am struck by frankly what seems to be a inconsistency on the part of some of my conservative colleagues who bemoan the nanny state, who talk about limited government, who urge the government to stay out of people's lives, who also argue that the Internet ought to be a free of restrictions, but who then single out the Internet for restrictions on personal choices to be made by individuals," Frank said.
As expected, Representative Spencer Bachus disagreed with Frank, and chastised the committee chairman for delaying the implementation of the UIGEA. "These regulations should have been finalized and implemented two years ago," said the Republican from Alabama. "It's time to stop delaying the will of the great majority of this Congress and the American people. Quit the foot dragging and enforce this law."
Bachus also took a new tack in his arguments and attacked the integrity of online gambling itself through a letter from Shawn Henry, the assistant director of the FBI's cyber division.
"Technology exists to manipulate online poker games," wrote Henry. "Technically, the online poker vendors could detect this activity and put in place safeguards to discourage cheating, although it is unclear what the incentive would be for the vendor."
In a "rapid response" memo posted after today's testimony, the Poker Player's Alliance noted the fallacy in Henry's argument. "The largest poker sites all use software to detect collusion," the PPA said in its response. "If a site is subjected to allegation that players are cheating, few players will play on that site."
"The letter misconstrues much about the current state of online poker, but it does so in a way that clearly makes the case for why federal oversight is necessary," added PPA Executive Director John Pappas.
WiredSaftey, a non profit organization dedicated to improving digital safety and privacy, echoed Pappas' thoughts and said regulation provides the best opportunity to protect consumers.
"It is not a matter of resistance at this point, it is more about time and importance of the issue in regard to some of the other issues the government has had to deal with this year," said Gaming Analyst Walter Boggs, "I believe that something will definitely happen in 2010."
That would be good news for online casinos who have, one by one, pulled out of the US market. The recent activity of the Department of Justice has caused more casinos to pull out in the past couple of months.
The government has seized bank accounts and help US online players in jail for their failure to testify what they know of the online casinos they were gambling at. The US citizens used their Fifth Amendment rights, but had them stripped when the government granted them immunity.
Now, the entire online casino industry in the US is in wait and see mode. The new year is just around the corner, and an industry waits while the biggest market in the world decides its future involving online gambling.
A markup session for H.R. 2267, which would repeal the UIGEA, has not been scheduled.