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Bush Urged To Lift Ban On Online Gambling

Despite NFL lobbying, Congressman Barney Frank argues the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act will burden the financial services industry.
A U.S. law that seeks to ban some forms of online gambling is meeting up with detractors in Congress this week who say the Bush administration's decision is premature.

In a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank wrote: "I am deeply disappointed to hear that your agency is proceeding with what I consider to be unseemly haste in issuing regulations implementing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. This midnight rule-making will tie the hands of the new administration; burden the financial services industry at a time of economic crisis…"

Arguing that "adults are entitled to do with their money what they want to do," Frank has long supported U.S. citizens' right to carry out some forms of gambling on the Internet. The controversy centers on the 2006 law that outlawed online payments for online gambling and criminalized some online gambling-related activities.

The latest flap involves a former National Football League lobbyist, William Wichterman, who has been working in the White House in recent months after he supported the NFL's hopes to restrict some online gambling. The NFL receives substantial revenue from its "Fantasy Football" online gambling game that has been exempted from the 2006 legislation. The football league maintains Fantasy Football is a game of skill, not chance.

White House officials said Wichterman had been vetted by government ethics specialists and the football league maintains Fantasy Football is a game of skill, not chance or gambling.

The legislation has been controversial from its beginnings in 2006. Its original supporters maintained the legislation would protect the morals of young Americans while opponents argued that it is too difficult to ban online gambling, because a ban is too difficult to enforce.

"The Bush administration is setting a horrible precedent of pushing through flawed regulations at the very last minute to deliberately circumvent the in-coming administration," said Jeffrey Sandman, a spokesman for the online gambling group Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, in a statement. "The special interests, including the NFL, are clearly the big winners with this last-minute maneuver, leaving already struggling banks and financial companies to implement costly and poorly crafted regulations."