A House panel approved legislation Thursday to crack down on the $12 billion Internet gambling industry by applying federal prohibitions to games like online poker, blackjack and roulette.
The bill by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., would update the 1961 Federal Wire Wager Act to apply to online gambling. It also would outlaw electronic transmission of funds to pay for gambling bets and give law enforcement agencies authority to block such money transfers.
Internet gambling already is mostly illegal in the United States, and most of as many as 2,300 gambling sites in existence are overseas.
The bill approved by the Judiciary Committee would "prevent offshore fly-by-night gambling businesses from violating the laws of all states," Goodlatte said.
"This legislation is badly needed," he said, adding spending on the sites has skyrocketed.
But half of the $12 billion spent on online gambling is thought to come from U.S. bettors and some companies in this country want to get in on the action. The American Gaming Association, the industry's largest lobby, has opposed online gambling in the past but last month backed a study of the feasibility of legalizing it.
Nevada's House members introduced a bill this week calling for such a study.
A previous attempt by Goodlatte to get his anti-online gambling bill through Congress failed after aggressive opposition by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Goodlatte alluded to that during heated debate in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
"This was the poison pill that was supported by Jack Abramoff five years ago — don't support it today," he shouted as Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., sought to attach an amendment related to horse racing.
Wexler didn't comment on the Abramoff reference and his amendment failed.
"Unfortunately the gentleman just mentioned by the gentleman from Virginia had some involvement in this issue before," remarked Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah. Abramoff is now under indictment. Abramoff has pleaded guilty in a Justice Department corruption probe.