Internet gaming bill opposed by SBC's Land

WASHINGTON (BP)--Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land has called on a congressional committee to oppose a bill he and others say would undermine current restrictions on Internet gambling.

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), expressed his concerns to the 71 members of the Financial Services Committee in the House of Representatives. He urged them to reject a bill by the committee's chairman, Rep. Barney Frank, D.-Mass., that he said "would overturn many U.S. gambling laws and could significantly harm America's youth, families, and communities."

Frank has indicated his intention to seek committee approval of the measure, according to the ERLC. The bill is the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act, H.R. 2267.

Frank's legislation, which has 66 cosponsors, would enable the U.S. Treasury Department to license and regulate Internet gambling firms but would permit states and Indian tribes to opt out of such wagering.

Online gambling, however, is effectively banned in this country under a 2006 law that requires financial institutions to block credit card and other payments to Internet wagering businesses, which are primarily located overseas.

Land, in his March 24 letter, told the committee's members the ERLC is particularly disturbed that the proposal would: (1) Release license recipients from state and federal control by granting "complete defense against any prosecution"; (2) grant authority to the Treasury Department to regulate gambling and thereby remove this power from the states, where it traditionally has rested; and (3) transfer the ability to criminalize online wagering from a state's citizens to its governor, who can effectively reverse anti-gambling laws by deciding not to withdraw from legalized Internet wagering as regulated by the Treasury Department.

The measure also "would serve the financial interest of [overseas] gambling firms and complicate U.S. trade commitments," Land said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the major professional sports leagues for baseball, basketball, football and hockey expressed their opposition to Frank's bill in a joint letter to the members of the Financial Services Committee last year.

When President Bush signed into law in October 2006 a bill containing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the action dealt a dramatic blow to online gambling companies. A couple of firms sold their American operations for $1 apiece, and others saw their shares fall by as much as nearly 60 percent on the London Stock Exchange.

Before the current restriction on Internet gambling was enacted, opponents said the private nature of the wagering resulted in its widespread use by minors and young adults, as well as addiction problems for people of all ages. Prior to the law, Americans were expected to pay $5.9 billion, about half of the $12 billion wagered worldwide on Internet gambling, to overseas, online casinos in 2006, supporters of the ban said. Online gambling sites frequently act as fronts for money laundering, drug trafficking and financing for terrorists, foes said.


Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.

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