A dispute among Republican leaders may delay the fate of a proposed Internet gambling ban until after the Nov. 7 elections, congressional and lobbying sources said Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., are pushing hard to include an online wagering ban and a slew of other bills in defense legislation.
But in a letter to Frist on Monday, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he "firmly opposed putting any out-of-scope" measures on the defense bill.
"There is strong reason to believe a point of order will be raised should the (defense) conference report have out-of-scope bills attached," Warner wrote.
Warner's letter echoed comments last week by Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
If a senator raises a point of order, 60 votes would be required to allow the defense bill to proceed to a final vote.
Frist spokeswoman Carolyn Weyforth said negotiations on the defense bill are continuing among House and Senate members "so it isn't known if the Internet gambling (ban) will be included or not."
Weyforth said that when the negotiations on the defense bill are completed, Frist will decide "if other efforts will need to be made to address the (Internet gambling) issue."
Calls to Hastert were not returned.
Frist and Hastert are urging Congress to pass the defense authorization bill by the end of this week, when lawmakers are scheduled to recess until after the elections in November.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., is a member of the conference committee negotiating terms of the defense bill.
"Senator Warner has issued a memo stating he will oppose any inclusion of out-of-scope bills in the (defense) authorization bill. That settles it, so we're not going to comment beyond that," said Ensign spokesman Jack Finn.
Last week, Ensign said he would favor a ban on Internet gambling until a federal commission is formed and completes a study of the online wagering industry.
The American Gaming Association, the chief lobbying group in Washington for casinos, issued a statement Tuesday reaffirming its support of a study of Internet gambling.
There are more than 2,300 Internet gambling Web sites producing annual revenue of about $12 billion.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last week he opposed Frist's efforts to attach an Internet gambling ban to the defense bill. But on Tuesday, Reid said he may not vote against the defense bill if it includes legislation that would prohibit the use of credit cards, checks and other bank instruments to pay for online wagers.
"If they close (negotiations on the defense bill) with only that (Internet gambling ban) in it, it would be a tough thing to vote against," Reid said.
One congressional source, who supports the Internet gambling ban, said there "is no real opposition in either chamber."
An Internet gambling lobbyist said the legislation is likely to linger until Congress returns after the elections.
"I'd say there is a 40 percent chance it comes back up during the lame-duck session (in November), a 40 percent chance the defense bill passes this week without an Internet gambling ban or any other attachments, and a 20 percent chance the defense bill passes this week with the Internet gambling ban," said the lobbyist, who requested anonymity.