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Congress Back in Action

Congress Back in Action

New York Congressman Peter King has introduced a bill that would legalize internet gambling on the federal level.

The Republican representative has put forward the “Internet Gambling Regulation, Enforcement, and Consumer Protection Act of 2013,” which would see the U.S. government tax and oversee casino-type games in states that wish to participate.

Similar legislation—restricted to online poker—was introduced last year by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Arizona Senator John Kyl, but could not find enough support for a vote. Since then, states have taken it upon themselves to draft their own online gambling regulations. Currently Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey are the only states to pass online gaming bills, but at least 10 other states are looking into the matter.

“A common federal standard will ensure strong protections for consumers, protect against problem and underage gambling, and make it easier for businesses, players, lawmakers, and regulators to navigate and freely participate,” King said.

King’s bill would allow for all forms of online gambling, with the exception of sports betting, when offered by federally licensed and regulated operators who meet strict standards for integrity and consumer protection.

The federal government would create an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Department of the Treasury. The government would retain overall jurisdiction and oversight over online gaming, but would rely on state expertise for licensing and enforcement under a common federal standard. States or Indian tribes would be able to opt-in or out of the program.

The act treats casinos, Indian tribes, lotteries, and other potential operators equally. None would receive preference in licensing, and once licensed an operator would have the authority to take play on all types of online gambling as authorized under the act.

Other sections of the bill call for strict oversight of underage gambling, tough penalties to unlicensed operators, and allow for federal funds to be used to treat gambling addiction. Currently the Public Health Services Act does not allow federal funds to be used for gaming addiction.

The bill comes at a time when the American Gaming Association, the country’s largest and most powerful casino lobbying group, is looking for bi-partisan support for a federal online gaming bill.

The AGA is currently looking for Republicans in the Senate to back its online gaming initiative, after similar legislation died last year due to lack of support. Last year Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who represents Nevada, partnered with Arizona Republican Jon Kyl on a failed effort to launch a federal online poker bill. Kyl has since retired, and the AGA is looking for a new non-Nevada Republican to champion the cause. The AGA has taken no position at this time on the King bill.

Despite the effort, federal legislation is still opposed by the National Governors Association, which sees a comprehensive bill as curtailing states’ rights and impinging on their sovereignty. State lottery directors also opposed the online poker bill, traveling to Washington last year to lobby against it. With casinos, racetracks, Native American tribes and state lotteries all coming into play, developing a consensus around a federal bill could remain an uphill battle.

One supporter of King’s bill is the Poker Players Alliance, the leading poker grassroots advocacy group with more than 1 million members nationwide. The group issued a statement to commend King.

“On behalf of the PPA membership and millions of poker players in the United States, I thank Congressman King for his commitment to protecting Americans’ freedom to play poker on the internet,” said former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, chairman of the PPA.

There is a personal connection between King and the PPA, as well. Sean King, Peter’s son, is a partner in D’Amato’s lobbying firm, Park Strategies, based in New York.

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