Legislating "immoral" activity on the Internet has been a popular pastime for as almost as long we’ve been online. The latest salvo in the ‘Net legislation war comes in the form of a bill that would make life difficult for online gamblers in the US. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act fo 2006, which was introduced last year, passed today by a 317-93 margin. It attempts to address online gambling by prohibiting wire transfers, "payment system instruments," and credit cards from being used as payment methods for online gambling sites.
Online gambling has been a growth industry for the past several years. Sports books have been popular for some time. More recently, the popularity of Texas Hold ‘Em has led to the rise of a number of poker sites, some of which are pay to play. Worldwide, Internet gambling sites are estimated to take in upwards of US$12 billion annually. Half of that US$12 billion comes from gamblers in the US, and the impact of raising the bar higher for online wagering has many gambling firms outside the US concerned.
Unfortunately for opponents of online gambling, the prospects for similar legislation in the Senate are murky. There have been no comprehensive antigambling bills introduced to the Senate yet, although the possibility exists that an amendment barring online gambling could be tacked on to legislation currently under consideration. With the Senate becoming more preoccupied with fall elections, thay may not happen this year.
Unlike other legislative attempts to regulate the Internet, this one could actually have a significant effect. Instead of trying to outlaw gambling sites (many of which are based outside the US), the bill makes processing or facilitating payments to them illegal. As a result, would-be gamblers would be unable to use their credit cards, debit cards, or make direct transfers from their US bank accounts to pay gambling sites. There are always ways around prohibitions like that, but the legislation will likely have the desired effect on casual gamblers.