US anti-gambling bill approved by Representatives

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The Independent Online

The internet gaming industry suffered a potential blow yesterday when the US House of Representatives approved a Republican bill to crack down on the sector.

However, it was uncertain whether the anti-gambling legislation would be passed by the US Senate due to a lack of debating time before the November congressional elections. Gaming stocks listed in London have experienced a roller-coaster ride this year as three anti-gambling measures were proposed by US legislators.

Operators such as PartyGaming, Sportingbet and Empire Online would be hit hard if any of the measures became law as they rely on the US for large chunks of their revenues.

The bill sponsored by the Republicans Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Jim Leach of Iowa would update existing laws to explicitly outlaw bets taken over the internet. It would also make it illegal for banks and credit card companies to make payments to online gambling sites. The industry generates $12bn (£6.5bn) in revenues a year worldwide.

An analyst at ABN Amro said: "We have been here before. Leach's proposals passed a vote in Congress in 2002 and in 2003 but never reached the Senate."

Mr Goodlatte, who has previously tried and failed to push through anti-gambling legislation, said in yesterday's debate: "This is a scourge on our society. It causes innumerable problems."

The bill has broad support among conservative and religious groups which want to keep gambling out of the reach of young people. To win backing among legislators, the bill exempted horse-racing and state-owned lotteries and dropped enforcement provisions for banks that fail to block credit card payments.

Opponents criticised the measure as a politically motivated effort to stir conservatives and boost Republican prospects in the November elections. Michael Bolcerek, the president of the Poker Players Alliance, which has 30,000 members, said "It's politics, plain and simple."

While internet gambling is banned in the US, gaming companies registered overseas are currently out of reach of the US authorities.