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Online Poker Dealt an Uncertain Hand

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Ken Bell lost his business 2 years ago and fell deep into debt. The 45-year-old's search for a way to repay his overwhelming bills led him to online poker tables. And that gamble has paid off. Over the past year and a half, Bell, playing 8 hours a day, has won enough to dig himself out from his failed business.



Internet poker "has basically allowed me to have a working income," Bell said. "If it didn't come through, they would have put me and my company into bankruptcy. Things would have gotten really bleak."

But the future is uncertain for Bell's new career and the online gambling industry. This month, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would make Internet gambling a federal crime. Supporters of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act say it's long overdue.

"This legislation provides real protection to American families from destructive and unlawful Internet gambling," said Tom McCluskey, the Family Research Council's vice president, who supports the bill, in a written statement.

If the Senate joins the House in passing a bill to ban Internet gambling and President Bush signs it, Colorado's professional online gamblers will be particularly at-risk. While many other states have land-based casinos with high-limit poker games, Colorado's $5 bet limit makes it nearly impossible to make a living at the state's casinos.

So, the Internet is the only option for professional gamblers who want to stay in Colorado and make a living at poker. The act, as passed by the House, would modify the 1961 Wire Act, which courts have ruled covers only sports betting, to cover all types of gambling and communication facilities.

It would also prohibit the use of credit cards, checks from U.S. banks and money-transfer services that Americans use to send and receive money from offshore gambling websites. The bill's supporters argue that gambling sites are accessible to children and that it's too easy to lose massive amounts of money on the Web. But for more than a decade, similar bills have died.

"It never seems to be a real priority, and given the list of priorities Congress has, it never seems to rise to the top," said Gregory Gemignani, a lawyer with Lionel Sawyer & Collins in Las Vegas who specializes in online gaming law. "There's certainly no assurance the Senate will act on this."

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