A controversial effort to ban Internet gambling cleared a House committee Tuesday, despite opposition from lawmakers who said it contains too many loopholes and from those who said it imposes too many restrictions.
The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved the bill by voice vote after an hours-long debate that had taken the better part of two previous sessions. It must be reconciled with a similar effort passed by the Financial Services Committee before the full House can vote on it.
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the bill would update the Wire Act of 1961, which bans interstate wagers, so it would clearly apply to the 1,500 offshore gambling operations that are expected to take in between $5 billion and $6.4 billion next year through the Internet.
The bill would enable law-enforcement agents to take down gambling sites and banner ads, and stop credit-card payments to sites operating outside the country.
Opponents included liberal Democrats who questioned the need to regulate an activity that adults undertake voluntarily, conservative Republicans leery of Internet regulation, and lawmakers across the political spectrum who said it would hurt state lotteries, dog tracks, jai alai and other legalized forms of gambling.
Although the bill is aimed primarily at offshore sites, Goodlatte has had to change it repeatedly to accommodate the many forms of legal gambling supported in different states.
The result is a bill riddled with loopholes, said opponents, who managed to pass two amendments over Goodlatte’s objections that would limit state lottery terminals to licensed retail outlets and would make sure that forms of online betting currently illegal–such as Web sites sponsored by licensed casinos–remain illegal.