WASHINGTON — Despite last week’s overwhelming vote in the House for Internet gambling restrictions, the outlook for similar legislation in the Senate appears uncertain.
Two key senators, Republicans Jon Kyl of Arizona and Richard Shelby of Alabama, on Tuesday pledged to move aggressively on Internet gambling controls.
But the Senate Banking Committee still has not scheduled a vote on Kyl’s bill to outlaw credit cards, checks and electronic fund transfers to pay for online wagers. The House passed those restrictions last week by a vote of 319-104.
“We’re pushing this bill,” said Shelby, the chairman of the Banking Committee. “I’m sure there will be (a committee vote).”
But Shelby said he did not know when the vote might occur. The Banking Committee conducted a hearing on the Kyl bill on March 18. Shelby and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., remain the only co-sponsors of Kyl’s bill.
Last year, the House approved sweeping Internet gambling restrictions by voice vote only to see the legislation die in the Senate because of objections from Indian gambling interests.
Kyl said he doesn’t expect the tribes to stall his bill this year.
“I think we’ve made progress in working out the problems (with tribes) satisfactorily,” Kyl said.
But two Capitol Hill sources, who requested anonymity, disputed Kyl’s assessment.
“The tribes are very unhappy with the House bill because they feel like they were ignored,” one source said. “They believe they should have the same exemption (from Internet gambling restrictions) that state governments have. Unless their concerns are addressed, it will be easier for the tribes to tie things up in the Senate.”
The National Indian Gaming Association, the primary lobbying arm for reservation casinos, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Another potential holdup for the Senate bill is the lack of a ringing endorsement from the Department of Justice.
During the March 18 hearing, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Malcolm expressed concern that the Kyl bill would not outlaw bets placed over the telephone. Malcolm also complained that the bill would exempt Internet service providers from criminal penalties and force law enforcement authorities to prove the illegality of Internet wagers.
“We have asked for input from Justice on the issues that would have to be resolved. Conversations are ongoing,” Banking Committee spokesman Andrew Gray said.
Gray said Shelby would prefer to pass the Kyl bill without removing criminal provisions, which were taken out of the House bill.
“We can work out the differences in conference (between House and Senate members),” Gray said.