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Washington • Nearly all forms of Internet gambling would be illegal under legislation proposed by a group of bipartisan members of Congress including Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Jim Matheson who want to overturn a Justice Department ruling that allows online betting.
Unveiled Wednesday, the bill would toss out the two-year-old Justice Department interpretation of a law that online gaming is legal, a move that has led to gambling proliferating on the Internet. The Utahns and their anti-gambling colleagues say the legislation is necessary to protect states that don't want online gaming. Utah and Hawaii are the only states that don't allow any games of chance.
"There should not be a single person in the bowels of the Department of Justice reinterpreting the law and fundamentally changing the landscape," Chaffetz said Wednesday. "That's not the way the process should work."
Lee said the Justice ruling is "unwarranted" and "incompatible" with how the law should be enforced, and that the legislation is needed to ensure the federal government doesn't subvert the right of states to bar gambling.
"What we're doing is literally restoring the status quo," Lee said.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican and former attorney general, said police agencies have raised concerns about online gambling, specifically about money laundering and scams.
"What has been the result of this [Justice Department ruling]: basically, it's been the wild West out there on the internet, which has been of deep concern for law enforcement," she said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
On the other side, the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, largely funded by MGM Resorts, says the proposed bill would make Americans and consumers less safe by pushing online gaming into the shadows.
"There isn't any question whether Americans are gaming online. They are," said the coalition's chairwoman, former Rep. Mary Bono. "Congress should be focused on keeping them safe, not shutting down existing consumer protections.
"If Congress passes this bill, we'll see more Americans gaming on black market websites with absolutely no protections against fraud, identity theft and other criminal activity," she added.