Wrong Wager For House

November 21, 2006
| By John Bronz |
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LANSING — The Internet Gambling Act, the last bill passed on the last day of the U.S. House pre-election session, has some feeling busted and complaining it promotes the casino industry.

This measure, which updates the 1961 Wire Act, prohibits credit card companies, banks and Internet wire service providers from accepting payments made from or to gambling Web sites. Congress made Internet gambling illegal for U.S. citizens in 2004.

U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, co-sponsored the bill. His press secretary, Jon Brandt, said Ehlers opposes any expansion of gambling, including Native American casinos, and believes online expansion would have negative effects on society.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland said, “A major downside to our flattened world is that foreign operations are able to conduct illegal activity in the U.S. with only a computer and an Internet connection,” Hoekstra said. “Their newly created ability to conduct online gambling endangers children, tempts compulsive gamblers, preys on the poor and facilitates fraud.”

Meanwhile, the Poker Players Alliance is pushing for an exemption for online poker. The group argues that poker is a game of skill and not a game of chance, so it should be regulated rather than outlawed.

“One problem you will have is unregulated companies popping up all over the Internet after this legislation’s passage,” said Michael Bolcerek, president of the Washington-based Poker Players Alliance. “It also violates the World Trade Organization’s free trade agreement because it blocks transfers of payments. It’s anti-competitive.”

Judy Xanthopoulos of Quantria Strategies conducted an independent study last year for the alliance and found that $60 billion is wagered annually online. It also found that if the online gaming industry were regulated and taxed, it would bring in $3.3 billion in federal taxes and $1 billion in revenue for states.

Derek Finkbeiner of Haslett, who used to gamble on the Web sites for Party Poker and USA Casino, said the legislation is unfair.

“At the closing of the last Congressional session, the Republicans take advantage of their last opportunity to control an uncontrollable fact that humans are going to want to gamble. The law is unenforceable,” said Finkbeiner.

Finkbeiner tried to gamble again on USA Casino — which is based in the Philippines — and was not allowed to make a deposit because the site no longer takes bets from the United States.

Some competitors are cashing in on the recent popularity of poker and online casinos.

The Michigan Lottery, for example, has more than 10 instant games that have casino themes, including Hold ’Em, Texas Hold ’Em, $300,000 Hold ’Em and Casino Kings.    

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