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Testimony Positive For Online Gambling Bill, Changes Requested

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Representative Barney Frank finally started the process of changing the Internet gambling laws in the US on Wednesday. Various representatives of law enforcement, financial institutions, and gamblers themselves, were able to testify at the hearing.

The overall mood surrounding the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act was positive, but it was clear throughout the testimony that some changes were going to have to be made to the bill. The key part for Frank and others fighting for Internet freedom was that the hearings provided a starting point.

"For years the online gambling community has just wanted the issue to go before lawmakers in Washington," said Gaming Analyst Steve Schwartz. "Today, that finally happened and as small of a step as it was, it still made gamblers excited that the hearing was held."

One of the speakers to address the issue on Wednesday was Ed Williams, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Discovery Federal Credit Union. Williams was speaking on behalf of the Credit Union National Association.

During his address, Williams announced the support the Credit Union has for online gambling regulations. Williams alluded to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and how the UIGEA places the burden of policing Internet gambling on financial institutions.

"In short, the law (UIGEA) makes credit unions and other financial institutions liable if transactions with illegal Internet gambling providers are approved," said Williams, "but it does not provide us with a definition of 'unlawful Internet gambling,' much less a list of illegal Internet gambling providers."

While Williams hit on the inadequacies of the UIGEA, the next guest, Tom Malkasian, the Vice-Chairman of the Board for Commerce Casino, pointed out possible flaws in Frank's new legislation.

Malkasian expressed concern over the validity of the $42 billion revenue figure that has been thrown around by pro-online gambling lawmakers. That figure is projected over a ten year period, but Malkasian believes that figure is inflated. He also asserts that to hit that figure, states would have to be denied an opt-out clause, and that is where Malkasian believes that the bill is too government intrusive to the gambling industry.

Tribal interests were represented in the hearing this afternoon by Lynn Malerba of the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut. Malerba praised Rep. Frank for his commitment to working with the American Indian tribes to ensure that they are treated fairly in any new online gambling legislation.

Malerba requested that any legislation changes be discussed with members from the tribe's, and also asked that the tribe's gain the same rights as any online gaming operators that may be licensed under the new legislation. One key point that Malerba pointed out to lawmakers attending the hearing was the fact that all tribal leaders do not have the same stance on Internet gambling regulations. Several groups have come out opposed to Frank's proposal.

Michael K. Fagan wrote in his testimony about the law enforcement area of new legislation. Fagan's testimony was similar to that of Malkasian, with both pushing for local authority to decide whether or not Internet gambling regulations are needed in their jurisdictions.

One of the more compelling testimony's came from professional poker player Annie Duke, who was representing the over one million members of the Poker Players Alliance. duke stressed the civil liberties that US citizens should have under the US Constitution. Duke also dispelled the myth that Internet gambling could lead to more problem gambling.

"I believe that many of those who seek to prohibit Internet gaming and Internet poker are motivated by good intentions," said Duke. "to protect the roughly one percent of people who are subject to pathological gambling, and to prevent minor children from gambling online. I, for one, do not agree that it is appropriate to circumscribe the activities of all adults to protect against the weaknesses of a few. This was the governing principle behind alcohol prohibition and it failed miserably."

In addition to the guest speakers, Representative Frank and Ranking member Spencer Bacchus also spoke. Bacchus has been one of the most vocal opponents of Internet gambling regulations, and he once again exhibited that stance on Wednesday.

Much information was distributed to the Committee on Wednesday, and much more testimony will be heard in coming weeks. Check back often with CGW to get the latest news on the online gambling hearings as they occur.

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