In 2006, the Congress which was then still controlled by the Republican Party, passed legislation (then signed by President George W. Bush) that explictly restricted internet gambling. The “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” (UNIGEA) did this by prohibiting banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions from processing or transferring gambling-related funds. While the 2006 law has made it virtually impossible for people wishing to place bets online for any activity other than horse racing to do so lawfully in the US, online gambling remains a multi-billion dollar industry offshore and in other countries.
Recently, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, introduced legislation that would largely nullify the effects of UNIGEA and legalize non-sports, online gambling. The GOP and many right-wing lobby groups such as Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition oppose online gambling and support empowernig the federal government to prohibit it and other forms of gambling. They can be expected to strongly oppose Rep. Frank’s effort.
Even though Frank’s bill (HR 2267) is imperfect — it would still prohibit betting on “sporting events,” for example, and it would create a significant new federal bureaucracy within the Treasury Department to regulate, monitor and collect revenues from internet gambling licensees — it at least will open debate on the question of why the federal government should be able to put someone in prison for wagering a bet over the internet.
What is needed is legislation that simply and clearly repeals UNIGEA and that repeals or at least curtails the 1961 “Wire Act,” which continues to be broadly interpreted by the Justice Department to prohibit internet gambling. In recent years almost every state has moved to leglaize some form of betting, whether by lottery, casinos or racetracks, and it makes no sense — if it ever did — to empower the federal government to continue prohibiting people from using the internet to place bets. If the only way to restore freedom in this respect is to put up with some form of regulation, let’s at least keep the regulatory aspect to a minimum and maximize the ability of adults to place bets online.