The online gambling industry in US has stepped up its campaign for legalizing Internet betting. Already a Democratic Congressman has introduced a legislation for the purpose.
Representative Barney Frank from Massachusetts said his bill would "enable Americans to bet online and put an end to an inappropriate interference with their personal freedom."
It would give the Treasury Department the authority to establish regulations and a licensing system for Internet gambling operators that would allow them to take bets from individuals in the United States.
A previous effort by Frank failed to get out of committee, but the combination of grass-roots and corporate support, as well as the weakening of the Republican Party, might improve the odds, advocates said.
Congress in 2006 passed a law banning U.S. banks, credit card and financial companies from processing online gambling transactions. Regulations governing enforcement of the law were adopted by the Bush administration in January and will take effect Dec. 1 if Frank's legislation does not succeed.
Frank said he planned to introduce separate legislation seeking to delay implementation of the bill which effectively banned online gambling in the United States, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
"The legislation will stop federal regulators from enforcing the UIGEA until Congress has had a chance to decide national policy," Frank said.
The US ban on Internet gambling has been challenged as an unfair trade restriction at the World Trade Organization.
The European Commission has also launched an investigation into whether the US gambling ban discriminated against EU firms.
The head of US gambling website Youbet.com has welcomed Frank's legislation.
"Illegal US online gambling is a growing multi-billion dollar industry," he said.
"Chairman Frank's bill recognizes those realities and would bring this underground activity into the light ... providing much-needed revenue in these difficult economic times."
Betting on horse races is currently the only online gambling allowed in the United States.
Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa and co-author of the book "Internet Gaming Law," thinks Frank will have the power to push legislation through the House this time around. "It will pass, although there will be changes," Rose said. "Very few people in Congress really care at all about Internet gambling."
Interestingly many Las Vegas casinos object to Internet gambling, obviously fearing competition. But there are genuine moral grounds too.
Chad Hills, an analyst for gambling research and policy at Focus on the Family, said the group was gearing up for a fight. "There's something to be said for people having to get in their car and actually go to a casino," Hills said. "If you have this available in your living room and it's accessible 24/7 . . . this is like the perfect storm for addiction."
John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, acknowledged the social ills linked to gambling, but said the best way to help addicts was to legitimize online poker.
"As with anything, people abuse it - online shopping, eating, drinking, smoking," Pappas said. "Playing poker is not immune to vice, but we truly believe that the best way of addressing problem gaming is to license and regulate the industry, not drive it underground."
Representative Franks said Internet gambling operators would have to protect against underage gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering and fraud or risk having their licenses revoked.