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KAI RYSSDAL: Internet gambling is a $12 billion business worldwide. And when we say worldwide, that’s what we mean. All the websites are based overseas since online betting here is illegal. Last fall the president signed a law prohibiting banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses — just to put some teeth into what was otherwise a pretty tough law to enforce.
Now, some lawmakers are trying to undo that ban. And since one of them’s the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, they got a hearing today on Capitol Hill. But our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports it’s still pretty long odds.
JOHN DIMSDALE: Opponents of the ban on Internet gambling say its none of the government’s business what Americans do with their own money in their own homes. Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank is the sponsor of the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act.
BARNEY FRANK: I spend a lot of time here as a member of Congress trying to protect people from other people who would treat them unfairly. I have no energy left to protect people from themselves. Adults have got to do that without me.
Frank says the Internet gambling ban is hypocritical because Americans are allowed to bet on horses or play state lotteries online. The World Trade Organization agrees it’s a double standard and is threatening trade sanctions.
But supporters of the ban, which passed the House last year 317-93, say keeping young people away from online gambling sites trumps free trade. Spencer Bachus is a Republican from Alabama.
Spencer BACHUS: They can’t go on a casino, so they do it on the Internet. They do it in their bedrooms. They do it in their dorm rooms. It is a mushrooming epidemic.
But Rep.Frank says age-verification technology can protect kids. Plus, he says there’s a huge financial incentive to regulate and tax an activity that an estimated 12 million to 20 million Americans engage in. One study predicts taxes on online gambling could bring in $20 billion over five years.
Despite the revenue enticement, there’s little sign Congress, or the White House, are inclined to reverse their overwhelming support for the ban. Today’s hearing attracted only six members of Congress.
In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.
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