US Congress omits online gaming ban from spending bill

US Congress omits online gaming ban from spending bill

Thursday, December 11, 2014

US Congress has opted not to get involved with the ongoing debate over internet gaming in the country after omitting a ban from this week’s budget.

Earlier this week, Congress unveiled its omnibus spending bill for the next nine months. The $1.1 trillion (€885.1bn) budget is used to keep government departments and public services running and is regarded as a must-pass measure, meaning that any other orders included in the bill are almost certain to be passed as well.

However, Congress has opted not to include on online gaming ban in the bill despite heavy lobbying by Sheldon Adelson, chairman of casino and resort company Las Vegas Sand Corporation and long-time critic of internet gambling. Adelson had hoped to include provisions that would reinstate laws to ban all forms of online gaming in the US.

Adelson’s Restore America’s Wire Act would see the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 reinstated and a 2011 decision overruled. The Justice Department in 2011 ruled that the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 only covers sports betting – a decision that opened up the wider online gambling market to states wishing to offer certain internet games such as poker and table games. 

Since this ruling, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have all opted to launch some form of online gaming service, while a number of other states are also reported to be interested in following suit. Adelson has since been lobbying to re-introduce a blanket ban on all forms of online gaming in the US.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (pictured) from Nevada said on Tuesday that this year’s debate over online gaming in the country would more or less be over if the spending bill remained silent. This marks the third consecutive Congress that has attempted to form a federal strategy for legalised internet gambling, only for it to fall short of some form of consensus.

“If we can’t get it into the omnibus, it won’t be in anything,” Reid said.

Reid had previously voiced his support for legislation that would ban online wagering but create an exemption for internet poker, due to the latter being a game of skill rather than “chance” gambling. This position is in line with state law in Nevada, which has legalised online poker but not other forms of web gambling.

Jan Jones Blackhurst, senior vice-president of government affairs at Caesars Entertainment, said the US operator, which has successfully launched online gaming services in both Nevada and New Jersey, is pleased that anti-web gambling language has been omitted from the bill.

Speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper, Blackhurst said: “We believe that banning internet gaming is bad public policy from our perspective. We’re pleased this issue will be discussed openly and not hidden in some omnibus bill.”

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