WASHINGTON — Momentum to ban Internet gambling came to a screeching halt Wednesday when a House panel voted 16-15 to attach an amendment that broadens its restrictions.
The dramatic outcome came down to a final vote cast by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., on a key amendment by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.
With the House Judiciary Committee deadlocked at 15-15, Waters walked over to the chair of Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat. After a brief discussion, Waters announced her vote in favor of Cannon’s amendment, which would remove exemptions granted to technologies employed by state lotteries and the horse racing industry.
“I was trying to think of the effect of this amendment and what would happen if it passed. I wanted to slow this (Internet gambling ban) down,” Waters said.
“I was trying to ferret out how to signal my distaste with it all,” Waters said. “We need to stop piecemealing what we are going to allow and not allow on the Internet.”
The vote on final passage of the Internet gambling ban proposed by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, was only slightly less compelling. With the committee again deadlocked at 15-15, the outcome hinged once more on the last vote cast.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., finally declared she would vote for the Leach bill, which forbids gamblers from using credit cards, checks and electronic fund transfers to pay for online wagers.
The upshot of the committee’s action is that the Leach bill faces a much more difficult road to the House floor. Without exemptions for state lotteries and other businesses, support for the Leach bill narrows.
If the committee had rejected the Cannon amendment, the Leach bill likely would have sailed to passage on the House floor, where a similar version passed last year by voice vote.
House passage would have added momentum to a similar bill in the Senate by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. The White House has announced President Bush would sign the Leach-Kyl bill into law.
But the Cannon amendment expands the ban, making it more likely the Leach bill will face resistance from businesses which have lost their exemptions.
The Cannon amendment also would prevent Nevada from resurrecting a study on Internet gambling regulation.
Internet gambling wagers have soared from $445 million six years ago to projections of $4.2 billion this year and $10 billion annually in the near future. Meanwhile, the current number of 1,800 gambling Web sites continues to grow.
Dan Walsh, a Washington lobbyist for the Interactive Gaming Council that represents online wagering companies, said Wednesday’s votes by the Judiciary Committee hamper but do not kill the Leach bill.
“The Cannon amendment makes it a more honest bill because you either want Internet gambling or you don’t. The amendment also makes the bill much harder to pass,” Walsh said.
Megan McCabe, a spokeswoman for Leach, said the congressman will continue efforts to advance his bill to the House floor despite Cannon’s amendment.
“He is open to entering into a reconciliation process to meet that end (of a vote on the House floor),” McCabe said.
Cannon’s amendment is virtually the same one he used last year to block an Internet gambling ban proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, D-Va.
During Wednesday’s debate, Goodlatte pleaded unsuccessfully with committee members to reject Cannon’s amendment. Goodlatte argued the amendment would mobilize special interests against an Internet gambling ban that is desperately needed.
“Don’t spoil (the Leach bill) by throwing it back into the thicket that I had to get into last time,” Goodlatte said.