TAB consults lawyers as US moves on Net gambling

The TAB is taking legal advice in the wake of a US Senate decision aimed at outlawing Internet gambling. The legislation approved by the Senate would ban most forms of online gambling in the US - and threaten bettors with prosecution for merely looking at a Website like the TAB's. It would also require the investigation of "existing and potential methods or technologies for filtering or screening transmissions ... that originate outside of the territorial boundaries" of the US.

The TAB is taking legal advice in the wake of a US Senate decision aimed at outlawing Internet gambling.

The legislation approved by the Senate would ban most forms of online gambling in the US — and threaten bettors with prosecution — by broadening a current federal “phone and wire” gambling prohibition passed in 1961 to encompass the Internet.

It would also require the US Secretary of Commerce to investigate “existing and potential methods or technologies for filtering or screening transmissions ... that originate outside of the territorial boundaries” of the US.

The TAB’s Internet wagering service, launched just before the Soccor World Cup, already has more than 1600 accounts, most of them from offshore.

TAB spokesman Peter Ambrose says the agency is now waiting for a copy of the “Kyl Bill”, an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Appropriations bill framed by Arizona Senator Jon Kyl and passed 90-10 by the Senate.

The legislation would ban most forms of online gambling in the US — and threaten bettors with prosecution — by broadening a current federal “phone and wire” gambling prohibition passed in 1961 to encompass the Internet.

Ambrose says the TAB is not panicking, “but it’s something we need to be aware of, and we need legal opinions on the implications”. He says the measure seems vague and some of its exceptions are bizarre.

“It’s something that we are pursuing, because if we don’t do anything, it’ll just roll over the top of us.”

Online wagering has been a fraught legal issue in the US for some time, and Ambrose says the TAB and its US-based Internet partner, IWN, have “taken the high moral ground, in that we haven’t accepted any bets from US citizens right from the start. We’re aware of the implications of betting not just to us but to US residents.

“The mere fact that we put our odds on the Internet could be construed as us offering betting to US residents. The fact that they can see our odds may be considered a form of advertising.”

The Kyl Bill would make it an offence not only to make or take a bet, but “to send, receive or invite information assisting in the placing of a bet or wager”, with a penalty of up to three months’ imprisonment.

“I think it’s about control,” says Am-brose. “A couple of months ago in the US, they arrested 44 gaming providers for offering bets to US citizens. We don’t want to be anywhere near that. I think the concern is over money laundering — but now these people have all gone offshore to Antigua and set up there.”

Senator Kyl is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. A press release from his office says Internet gambling “is unregulated, accessible by minors, addictive, subject to abuse for fraudulent purposes like money laundering, evasive of state gambling laws — and already illegal at the federal level in many cases”.

Ambrose says the TAB’s major concern is over hints that the bill’s sponsors would be talking to other countries to try to make it a worldwide issue.

“We’re all aware that taxation is a major issue for governments around the world and I think that’s the driving force behind this — not the fact that it’s available to children in their homes.”

Ambrose says Internet betting goes through same account process as other TAB activities. All money coming into the country is subject to tax and also goes to the sporting codes and the racing industry.”

The US gaming industry magazine Rolling Good Times says the Kyl bill has a typically labyrinthine path toward becoming law. Because it is attached to the Senate appropriations bill, it will have to be combined with the House version of the appropriations bill, which may or may not contain an equivalent measure. A joint committee from both houses will decide next month whether Kyl’s part of the bill will be included the version presented to President Bill Clinton.

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