A movement to legalize online poker and other forms of non-sports betting cleared a major hurdle when a key bill passed the House Financial Services Committee July 28.
But final passage of the measure is still being viewed on Capitol Hill as a crap shoot at best. "This is, by no means, a sure thing," said a senior staffer on the financial services committee. "In fact, I'd call it a long shot."
That's because the window to get anything passed is quickly closing. Congress is set to take a seven-week recess, leaving a two-week window in late September before the session breaks again prior to mid-term elections. And then there is the looming possibility of a lame duck session which, which according to the Financial Services Committee staffer, does not bode well for passage of anything.
Additionally, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, the committee's chairman and chief sponsor of the measure, H.R. 2267, the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act of 2009, has stressed he wants that bill to go forward paired with a separate piece of legislation, H.R. 4976, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Tax Enforcement Act of 2010. Sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, this bill would establish a framework for taxing Internet gambling, including industry profits and individual's winnings. Proponents say legalizing online gambling might raise $10 billion to $42 billion in new government revenue over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. The House Ways and Means Committee has yet to mark up McDermott's bill.
Getting McDermott's companion bill through Ways and Means, and then having both that bill and Rep. Frank's bill pass in the House, and then the Senate, all in that brief September window, while not impossible clearly looms as a tall order, conceded John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization. "We are not talking about an easy task," Pappas said.
Pappas did, however, point to yet another bill, to legalize online poker, coming together in the Senate. It could sneak through in a lame duck session, Pappas said. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has not yet had a hearing.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages on full tilt, opponents of online gambling continue to point to a host of negative societal ramifications that to them appear to be a sure thing should legalization come to pass.
"Internet gambling's characteristics are vastly different than those of other forms of gambling," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., during a hearing held July 21. Bachus is the ranking GOP member on the Financial Services Committee and perhaps the country's most vociferous opponent of Internet gambling.
"Online players can gamble 24 hours a day from home," he said. "Children may play without sufficient age verification. Betting with a credit card can undercut a player's perception of the value of cash, leading to addiction, bankruptcy and crime."
Youth are particularly at risk, Bachus said, because "when you put a computer in the bedroom or dorm room of a young person, the temptation is too great for many of them to resist."
Quoting John Kindt, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, Bachus went on to label Internet gambling "the crack cocaine" of betting. "It's 'click the mouse, lose your house,'" he said.