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Bush signs Internet betting ban into law

President Bush signed a bill to criminalize Internet betting on Friday but you won't hear many in Indian Country complaining.

Tribes fought proposals to restrict Internet gaming for several years. "We've been very concerned that certain sectors of the gaming industry were coming forward to get a special carve-outs to do Internet gaming while other folks, including tribes, were foreclosed," said Mark Van Norman, the executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association

The effort put tribes in the same camp as convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He was blamed for engineering the bill's defeat in 2000 by convincing former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to kill the measure.

But with Abramoff headed to prison after admitting to a conspiracy to defraud tribes and bribe a member of Congress, Republican leaders saw an opening. They attached the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to an unrelated defense security bill in hopes of curtailing the $6 billion online gaming industry.

Where does that leave the $23 billion tribal casino industry? According to the Van Norman, tribal rights will not be adversely affected by the measure.

"It has respect for tribal-state compacts, respect for the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and respect for existing rights of tribes to have linked gaming from reservation to reservation," said Van Norman at the recent National Congress of American Indians conference in Sacramento, California.

This time around, NIGA teamed up with an unusual partner, Van Norman said. The National Football League lobbied in favor of the bill, partly to protect its fantasy football website, but also to prevent Internet wagering on actual games.

With the NFL's help and the work of tribal leaders, Van Norman said Congress made changes to protect existing rights. "So it's a much better bill than it has been in prior years," he added. "We weren't completely happy but we certainly made lot of progress."

The law indeed includes some significant changes. Earlier versions carved out state-sanctioned wagering made over the Internet but left tribal rights in question.

The new bill, written by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virgina), now exempts tribal gaming from the definition of "unlawful Internet gambling." Such tribal gaming includes any bets made entirely within Indian lands, as defined by IGRA, or bets made between the Indian lands of multiple tribes.

An exemption also was made for bets or wagers that comply with federally-approved tribal ordinances or with tribal-state compacts, so long as the tribes and states take measures to block underage gambling.

Finally, the definition of "unlawful Internet gambling" does not include any bets or wagers that comply with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

What is being banned is the use of credit cards, checks and electronic fund transfers to place bets. An estimated 23 million Americans engage in the activity, wagering on sites based in countries where Internet gaming is legal.

Bush's signing has already prompted several companies to pull the plug on their Internet links to the United States. Gaming firms in Australia and the United Kingdom fear criminal prosecution if they allow Americans to place bets.

Port Security Bill:
H.R.4954 | Conference Report

Internet Gaming Ban Bill:

Relevant Links:
National Indian Gaming Association -