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Washington • House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz is targeting online gambling with new legislation that would ban Internet poker or games of chances in which real money is involved.
The Utah Republican also promised to march online-gambling executives up to Capitol Hill to answer for what he says is blatant marketing of gaming to children.
"If you go look right now, you'll see they have successfully blurred the lines," Chaffetz said Wednesday. "You'll see in one instance Wizard of Oz characters being used to encourage young kids to play the slots."
Chaffetz's bill renews a fight that has split the gaming industry and drawn public campaigns for and against online gambling fueled by casinos. Three states Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware allow online gambling and 10 others are considering it.
Chaffetz says he's convinced technology won't stop folks from other states playing online games and that Congress needs to step in to prohibit such gambling, allowed now under a legal opinion from the Justice Department issued Dec. 23, 2011. Utah law forbids any games of chance.
"Putting an app on every phone that allows people to gamble at will no matter where they are is not a good idea," Chaffetz said.
His measure died last year without any congressional action, but the congressman says there are better odds of passing it this year.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced a similar bill last session in the Senate.
Some casinos have backed the online-gaming industry as an untapped market while others including billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson have fought it on moral grounds. Adelson, who met with Chaffetz in January in Washington, has pledged to spend whatever is needed to kill online poker.
Pro-gambling groups argue that Chaffetz's legislation oversteps the government's role in taking away the right of states to regulate intrastate commerce. "Every Congress to consider Internet-gaming legislation has preserved the right of states to protect their citizens through a system that is accountable to regulators and the government," John Pappas, the executive director of the Poker Players Alliance, said in a statement Wednesday. "Attempting to rewrite history through a piece of legislation that prohibits states from enacting these safeguards represents the worst kind of crony capitalism that favors a mega-political-campaign donor over what's in the best interest of the states and their consumers."
The comment was a clear reference to Adelson, who poured $93 million into the previous presidential election.
Chaffetz said a hearing on marketing gambling to children wasn't the top priority of the Oversight Committee, but he said a hearing could be held soon on the topic. He said he hoped not to issue subpoenas to executives to force them to testify, but he didn't rule it out.
"That's always a tool in our bag that we can pull out at any time," he said.