Friday, 5 November 2010

Time out (for US' online gambling industry)

Since 2009 there have been glimmers of hope the United States might move towards a legalisation of online gambling. Since the online market was outlawed in 2006, huge efforts have been made to bring back online gambling. 

Expectations in and outside the United States were raised with the introduction of two bills in Congress in the last 18 months. The Democrat Barney Frank submitted in May 2009 HR2276 and not long after that his fellow Democrat Robert Menendez introduced S1597. Both legislative pieces aim to bring online gambling activities back to the US and would make it possible for operators to re-enter this potentially lucrative market under strict requirements. 

Operators and businesses became increasingly hopeful on 28 July of this year, when the Financial Services Committee of the House of Representatives approved Frank’s Bill. Many in favour of regulation believed legalisation had become a serious possibility and though the financial climate – the US being desperately in need of funds and the federal government’s active search for new revenue sources – could be the final push to a ‘yes’ vote. 

Three months down the line, however, many experts believe it is unrealistic to expect any bill to succeed anytime soon. Speculation might have been building and a number of legislative proposals submitted, but the moment has passed.

With the mid-term elections in less than a month, the chance of any legislation being passed before the elections is practically zero. “I’m not optimistic”, Frank said last month, pointing out that the busy House of Representative Fall schedule simply does not allow a vote before the elections. 

If the outcome of the elections will indeed be a reflection of the current polls – Republicans are expected to win and the Democrats to lose their majority in both houses - things are not looking good for those in favour of regulation. Not one leading Republican has plans to overturn the legislation passed in 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which banned online gambling in the US. 

Most Democrats ignore the issue or have spoken out against regulation, since many American voters believe (online) gambling to be immoral and see it as a dangerous spare time activity. After the elections, no heavyweight in US politics - Democrat or Republican - is expected to put regulation of online gambling on top of the agenda anytime soon, certainly not in the run-up to the presidential election in 2012. It is simply not a priority. Frank and Menendez will become lonely voices at Capitol Hill and their bills will in all probability be buried in the bottom drawer. Realistically, that means the next opportunity for a serious attempt to regulate will most likely not take place until the Spring of 2013.

The information in this editorial might be outdated, since it was first published in World Online Gambling Law Report magazine, London 2010. Copyrights apply.