Are you one of the thousands of online gamblers who have tried to withdraw their winnings, only to learn that the US government had frozen the accounts of the online gambling sites? This is the irony of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, called UIGEA for short; the ones that are hurt are the ones who are owed money, and who technically have not broken the law!
If you’re not familiar with the UIGEA, let’s revisit the way it was enacted. The House and Senate voted on and passed the Security and Accountability For Every Port (SAFE Port Act) Sarangdomino without the UIGEA included. Then in Conference Report, the UIGEA was added. The House and Senate voted to pass the Conference Report – without ever hearing it read. President Bush signed the law and the shock was tangible across the internet gambling world the next day.
But it’s not just Americans who have been in an uproar. The European Commission and World Trade Organization are making noise as well. They claim that the US is in violation of international trade laws by passing the UIGEA because of the way the law attempts to prevent online gambling. It doesn’t make gambling illegal – it makes it illegal to transfer funds to an internet gambling site from a US financial institution. So of course if you can’t add money to your account, you can’t gamble!
Now, however, there seems to be a change of tune in Washington. President Obama has made it clear that he wants the US to begin cooperating with our international neighbors again, and he plans to start with the UN. While there isn’t a clear signal from the President to legalize online gambling, this new attitude is encouraging. And there are some very loud signals from members of Congress in support of legalizing online gambling.
Two pieces of legislation have been introduced lately that would return the joy to US online gamblers everywhere. One of these is from Representative Barney Frank, who is going to try, again, to overturn the UIGEA. His reason doesn’t have to do with the US abiding by international agreements – instead, he believes Americans should have the right to gamble online for money if they choose to do so. He sees it as an individual rights and a privacy issue more than an international relations issue.
The other proposed legislation is coming from Senator Robert Menendez. His scope is a bit narrower than Franks. Menendez wants to legalize online poker rather than all online gambling. This could be a strategy to feed legalization of gambling piece-meal to the other members of Congress, but we’ll have to wait and see.