House Deals Online Gambling A Blow

The House tried to strike a blow against Internet gambling Wednesday with passage of a bill to make it illegal to use credit cards or any form of electronic payment for the illegal offshore activity.

"We shut off the money, we shut off the sites," said Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala.

The bill passed the House on a voice vote. It now goes to the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future because only a few weeks are left in the legislative session.

"It may be impossible to keep illegal gambling sites off the World Wide Web, but it is entirely possible to prevent American credit card companies from completing these transactions that these crooks need to make their money, and that's what this bill does," said Rep. Joseph Pitt, R-Pa.

Experts estimate that revenues from Internet gambling, largely conducted by offshore companies because of a ban in the United States, could exceed $4.2 billion in 2003.

The bill, championed by Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa, would make it a crime for a gambling business to accept credit cards, checks or fund transfers in connection with unlawful Internet gambling. "Internet gambling serves no legitimate purpose in our society - it is a danger to the family, it is a danger to society at large," Leach said.

Since Internet gambling sites are overseas and beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcers, American officials can seek injunctions against American banks and credit card companies to stop them from processing any credit card transaction or other financial instrument with a specified illegal Internet gambling site.

Lawmakers said Internet gambling especially preys on college-age youth who have access to credit cards and computers but no way to pay the bills they run up. "I think this is an extremely important bill for all America, but especially for our youth, who use computers for hours and hours per day," said Rep. Jim LaFalce, D-N.Y.

Government investigators with the General Accounting Office said last week that Internet gambling is susceptible to money laundering and related criminal activity.

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