Frank Bill a Surprise for Online Gambling Industry

By Brian Cullingworth, Last updated Mar 8, 2021

The chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Congressman Barney Frank has launched his much anticipated proposal to amend the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act….and it’s not the repeal most industry people were expecting.

The bill does not challenge the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2007 directly. Instead it seeks to establish a regulatory and enforcement framework for licensed gambling operators to accept bets and wagers from individuals in the US.

At a press conference in Washington yesterday (Thursday) the Congressman introduced his eagerly awaited Internet gambling bill, taking a completely unexpected approach which addresses the big picture in US online gambling by introducing the possibility of federal licensing, regulation….and taxation.

The Frank bill, titled the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, does not seek to set aside the UIGEA but leaves it in place, together with the Wire Act.

The ban against financial transactions with online gambling companies stays, qualified by its application only to sites regarded as “illegal” or in other words unlicensed in the USA. However, Section 5370 of the new proposal provides a defence against the UIGEA regulations that have yet to be promulgated following interaction between the Treasury and the Attorney Generals office.

Frank proposes to introduce a system of federal licensing and regulation that will be open to suitable offshore Internet gambling companies.

This aspect is handled through legislation that seeks to amend Chapter 53 of Title 31, United States Code (Monetary Transactions), by adding a new sub-chapter titled Regulation of Lawful Internet Gambling.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is to be given exclusive authority to issue and enforce licenses and regulations, if the Frank proposals are accepted. Applicants would be subject to both financial and corporate probity scrutiny – including criminal background checks of corporate officers – during the licensing process. And applicant companies will have to set up a corporation in the USA for taxation purposes.

The taxation provision is no surprise (see previous InfoPowa reports). Industry observers expected to see tax used as a sweetener to bring politicians on board, and some experts have anticipated that the harvest from taxation could be of the order of $20 billion over a five year period, given the continued growth of a regulated and licensed market.

The Frank bill proposes a 1 percent license fee, and a 1 percent user fee paid to the U.S government during each 30-day period of operation, based on revenues received from player deposits. The fees, however, are drawn and paid from company funds and not from customer funds. It also requires the US licensed companies to adhere to federal and state income tax laws.

In another move to head off opposition, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act stresses that licenses will only be granted if appropriate safeguards are in place for preventing underage gambling, fraud and money laundering.

Licenses are to be renewable each year and may be revoked if the company fails to comply with the regulations or any U.S. federal laws.

The proposal shows sensitivity to the important aspect of individual state authority over gambling laws and does not target any specific form of gambling. This too was expected, and the poker sector appears from recent statements to be prepared to shift its stance of trying for an exception for the game.

Individual states can choose to regulate certain forms of gambling and not others, and if the powerful national sports leagues don’t want any form of wagering to occur on a particular sport this is possible, too. Tribal gambling authorities, another strong lobby, are given equal rights to the states.

These sensitivities – a wide diversity of gambling is available in over 50 of the states of the Union – will make the amendments more palatable to a wider range of politicians. America accounts for around 48 percent of the total world gambling market of approximately $260 billion annually.

Congressman Frank does not seem to have changed his opinion of the UIGEA, which he has dubbed a “great mistake” and “one of the stupidest laws ever passed,” but his proposals have clearly been carefully thought through with likely opposition strategies in mind.

Online gambling is likely to be very much front-and-centre in Congress in the coming months – Nevada Representatives Shelley Berkley and Jon Porter have indicated that they intend calling for a year-long non-partisan study of Internet gambling that could delay the enactment of the forthcoming UIGEA regulations, and the Democrat Representative from Florida, Robert Wexler, is understood to be about to launch a bill seeking a carve-out for online poker on grounds that it is a game of skill.

In the meantime, players and industry folk alike are being urged to make their opposition to the UIGEA known. A list of contact numbers for political representatives in the USA is now available at Casinomeister USA, and several other sites, and a petition at www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/306149419?ltl=1177341828 is reportedly attracting signatures at the estimated rate of over 100 an hour.

Brian Cullingworth

Infopowa news was a staple of Casinomeister’s news from 2000 until 2019. Brian Cullingworth was the main writer, contributor, and was one of the most knowledgeable persons I have ever known involved in the online casino industry.

We first met in January 2001 at the ICE in London where I observed him going booth to booth interviewing online casino, software, and licensing jurisdiction representatives. Brian was also heavily involved with our forum as “Jetset“, he was involved as an informal consultant to eCOGRA, the OPA, and was a player advocate who assisted countless aggrieved players with his connections to industry folks. He also published “Casino Cautions” via Infopowa news for quite a number of years. These can be found in our news archives.

His passing in February 2019 was a dark day for us. He will be forever missed.


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