VEGAS - What a difference $15 billion makes.
watching the fortunes of online casinos soar fivefold
in as many years - an extraordinary winning streak with
no apparent end in sight - Las Vegas casino giants want
Congress to study letting them in on the action.
executives are licking their chops for good reason.
gambling industry survey indicates that U.S. gamblers
who bet online - which is illegal in this country - are
young, savvy, college-educated men with money to burn.
even as the industry wants to create dot-com casinos,
conservative members of Congress were pushing last week
to strengthen the ban on Internet betting - and were buoyed
by a public opinion poll that showed growing concern about
Pew Research Center released poll results last week showing
that 70 percent of Americans think legalized gambling
encourages people to gamble more than they can afford,
up from 62 percent in 1989.
gaming catapulted onto the scene this decade, skyrocketing
from a $3 billion industry in 2001 to a $15 billion jackpot
much as 60 percent of the revenue is estimated to have
come from U.S. citizens, many of whom reported in the
survey commissioned by the American Gaming Association
that they didn't realize they were breaking the law.
gambling revenue is projected to balloon to $24 billion
by the end of the decade.
AGA, the casino industry's lobbying arm, has long been
neutral toward Internet gambling. Some members were suspicious
of the industry, others were experimenting with online
gambling but most didn't have an opinion one way or the
lawmakers introduced a bill last week calling for the
also last week, a House committee passed a pair of bills
to further crack down on Internet gambling, and the full
House is slated to take up the issue this summer - just
in time to inject a hot-button issue into the November
bills would modernize the 40-year-old Wire Act - the current
basis of the U.S. ban on Internet gambling because it
says you can't use your telephone to place a bet with
your bookie. Updated language would also prohibit use
of the Internet and other technologies, and also prevent
the use of many credit and debit cards to make bets.
groups hope Congress will pass the bill so GOP candidates
in the fall will have a moral issue to offer voters.
are many (members of Congress) who have concerns about
the fact you have these illegal, unregulated, untaxed,
offshore sites siphoning billions of dollars out of the
country. This bill makes it clear that act is illegal,"
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said after his bill to ban
Internet gambling passed out of the House Judiciary Committee.
anti-gambling. There are lots of reasons to be concerned
about gambling. I know in Las Vegas they have a different
say after a decade of prohibition bills that went nowhere,
a ban is more likely than ever.
many members have voted 'yes' for too many years for it
not to happen," Tom Susman, a partner with the law
firm Ropes & Gray, said at a gaming industry conference
recently in Las Vegas. "This issue is not going away."
Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev., who with Rep. Shelley Berkley,
D-Nev., introduced the bill to launch the study, said
there are signs of support for it within the House GOP.
an alternative for members of Congress to have, as opposed
to the Goodlatte bill," said Porter spokesman T.J.
Crawford. "We need to have a much better understanding
before we make a decision as a Congress."
the bill has dozens of sponsors, only a handful come from
the ranks of Republicans.
says that as much as she believes a study is the way to
tackle the issue, she sees little chance of it getting
traction in the Republican-controlled House.
Republican majority in Congress wants to be able to demonstrate
to their base that they're somehow doing something to
protect the morals of America," she said.
if a bill did get out of Congress, with just a little
more than 30 days to go in the legislative session, some
doubt whether both the House and Senate have the appetite
to tackle the issue with so many others on their plate.
AGA's survey of Internet gamblers offers a clue as to
why the industry would like to tap online bettors.
gamblers are not the desperate or vulnerable loners they're
often perceived to be. They tend to be younger, more affluent
and better-educated than gamblers who frequent land-based
American people clearly want to gamble on the Internet,"
said Frank Fahrenkopf of the American Gaming Association
and a former national GOP chairman.
question is, what's the best way to protect them? Is it
better to have them offshore or would it be better to
license, regulate and tax them here? That's what (a study
commission) should look at."
Justice Department's inflexible position that Internet
gambling is illegal has left American casino giants standing
on the sidelines of one of the most lucrative business
opportunities in the past decade.
bosses have also been nervous about opening the floodgates
to home-based gambling, where minors have been known to
gamble with credit cards and people with gambling problems
can feed their habit more easily.
are very concerned about the Internet - as well they should
be," Harrah's Entertainment Chief Executive Gary
Loveman said in a recent presentation before the Nevada
Society of Certified Public Accountants.
there is growing confidence that technology can shield
online gambling sites from the uninvited.
Mirage says the time has come for Internet gambling to
be regulated by states similar to land-based casinos -
and be taxed, providing a lucrative revenue stream for
Congress-authorized study that shows how Internet gambling
can be regulated effectively could persuade state governments
to legalize the practice, said MGM Mirage spokesman Alan
current situation makes no sense. There's no enforcement,
there's no protection for consumers."
its part, the Interactive Gaming Council, an Internet
gambling trade group based in Toronto, welcomes any discussion
about allowing U.S. casino companies a piece of the action.
view this as a complex policy issue that should be looked
at," said Keith Furlong, of the trade group.