Maybe there are some teeth in the push for legalization and sensible federal regulation of the Internet gambling industry after all.
Sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) — chairman of the House Financial Services Committee — HR 2267 is a bill designed to establish federal oversight of an online gambling industry that currently resides in murky legal waters for U.S. players.
It passed overwhelmingly 41-22 via committee vote last week, advancing the legislation to the House floor, where it hopefully will be voted on before the end of the 2010 session. If it gets that far, it will be the deepest penetration of online gaming law at the federal level in history.
"The good news is this is significant progress," said Michael Waxman of the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative. "Last week's vote showed the bi-partisan support is there."
HR 2267 has the potential to open an enormous revenue stream in an era where cash is badly needed at all levels of government.
One analysis completed by the Congressional Joint Committee of Taxations concluded that regulated online gambling could generate $42 billion in revenue over the first 10 years of HR 2267 implementation at the federal level.
At the state level, a 6 percent deposit fee could generate an additional $30 billion.
"Those figures assume you are starting with an industry where millions of players are already engaged," Waxman said. "And with regulation, there is an expectation that many more will take up and enjoy this form of recreation. There is a strong possibility that this bill would be included in a larger legislative package as a way to offset the cost of other programs."
If HR 2267 is signed into law, sites will have to apply for federal licensing. There's no language about a cap on the licenses, but in a regulated environment, safeguards against such things as identity theft, compulsive gambling behavior and underage gambling would have to be in place in order to secure one.
Sites able to comply and secure licensing will strike oil. Those that cannot will fade away.
"It's up to the feds to determine how this is going to work," Waxman said.
Even though poker players make up the bulk of the online gaming industry, the legislation isn't poker specific. HR 2267 would also regulate online casino games such as blackjack, slots, table games, etc.
It doesn't include online sports betting.
The major benefit to regulation for players resides in personal and legal security of funds. In the current market, there is no legal recourse for such things like frozen money and cheating outside of negotiation with the site itself.
Your average U.S. player isn't going to get a court to hear a case in Costa Rica.
According to Waxman, players shouldn't expect a lengthy delay with regulation if HR 2267 becomes a reality.
"The idea of online gambling regulation is not new," Waxman said. "The activity is successfully regulated in many countries throughout the world. It should not be a difficult lift to take on this job. A much more difficult task is trying to enforce a prohibition on the activity, which will ultimately fail."