By Jerry Jordan, Senior Staff Writer
Secreted into H.R. 4954, the Safe Port Act, the U.S. Senate attached and voted to approve an amendment that now makes it illegal for banks to fund Internet gambling sites, as well as, the money brokers, like Neteller, Firepay and Click2Pay that act as a go-between from U.S. banks and offshore gambling sites.
In addition, the legislation, which is expected to be signed by President George W. Bush, will make it illegal to use credit cards for funding Internet gambling accounts.
“It’s been over 10 years in the making,” said Sen. John Kyl, Arizona-R. “The enforcement provisions provided by this bill will go a long way to stop these illegal online operations.”
Kyl, who was one of the lawmakers that spearheaded the movement to ban Internet gambling, was joined in his efforts by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a republican who is expected to be a candidate for president in 2008.
Frist released a statement early Saturday stating, “Congress has grappled with this issue for 10 years, and during that time we’ve watched this shadow industry explode,” Frist said in a statement Friday, “For me as majority leader, the bottom line is simple: Internet gambling is illegal.”
Internet gambling supporters are still wondering what the bill means, as it is vague in how it will be enforced. Dan Cypra, Marketing Director of PocketFives.com, an online poker community, wants the millions of Internet gamblers not to panic.
“This legislation is quite vague in terms of its implications on payment options for those wanting to gamble on the Internet,” said Cypra. “The best thing we can do is be educated on what this bill will and will not do. It is important to remain calm and remain informed.”
Enforcement of the bill is not immediate but the wording does cause concern over what it means for gamblers that have large accounts with the likes of Neteller and Firepay. At the least online gamblers and poker players in the U.S. have 270 days to continue playing before they are locked out of their accounts.
“The future of Neteller and Firepay, both offshore companies, remains to be seen.” Jay Bailey, Membership Director of the National Right for Online Gaming stated on the PocketFives.com Web site. “From everything we have seen regarding this bill, it looks like Neteller and Firepay may be safe.”
But Bailey and other online gambling supporters are not 100 percent certain. What is certain is that had Congress attempted to regulate online gambling, instead of ban it, they could have generated additional revenue.
A study commissioned by the Poker Players’ Alliance, an advocacy group fighting for the rights of Internet poker players, shows that most of the money wagered on Internet poker comes from the U.S.
“Estimates indicate that, worldwide, amounts wagered in online poker games were nearly $60 billion in 2005 with approximately $3 billion in commission revenues,” states the executive summary of the study conducted by Judy Xanthopoulos, Ph.D. Quantria Strategies, LLC. “Further, industry estimates indicate that nearly 90 percent of these wagers are made by American players. In addition to the 23 million online poker players, television broadcast of poker tournaments provides another indicator of the popularity of poker in the US. The presence of poker on US television stations continues to grow and attract larger audiences. Whether the Federal government approves or does not approve of Internet poker, it is clearly a dominant pastime and one that is likely to persist for many years to come. It is important to note that the Federal government, by taking a position opposing all Internet gaming, including Internet poker, has denied itself an important source of potential revenues and the ability to regulate and oversee this industry.”
It is estimated that regulating Internet gambling would generate more than $3 billion a year in revenue for the government.
“The best thing we can do is be educated on what this bill will and will not do,” said Cypra. “It is important to remain calm and remain informed.”
It has also been learned that online gambling proponents intend to file a lawsuit that could tie up the legislation in court.
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