Internet Gambling Bill Gets Last Minute Push

By Peter Kaplan

Most forms of Internet gambling would be banned under a tentative agreement reached on Friday by U.S. congressional negotiators.

Pending a review by other lawmakers, the measure could be brought up within hours for passage by the House of Representatives and Senate and then forwarded to President George W. Bush to sign into law.

The measure would be attached to an unrelated measure to bolster port security. Democrats had accused Republicans of pushing the bill to placate its conservative base, particularly the religious right, in advance of the November 7 elections.

"It's been over 10 years in the making. The enforcement provisions provided by this bill will go a long way to stop these illegal online operations," one of the bill's key backers, Sen. Jon Kyl (news, bio, voting record), a Republican of Arizona, said in a statement.

The agreement, a blend of earlier measures passed by the House and Senate, would make it illegal for banks and credit card companies to make payments to online gambling sites.

Efforts to win support for the House version had been opposed by lobbyists representing casino owners and other gambling interests.

The bill would leave out an additional provision of the House bill that would have clarified that a 1961 federal law banning interstate telephone betting also covers an array of online gambling.

Investors in British-based gaming companies such as BETonSPORTS Plc, Partygaming Plc and 888 Holdings Plc are closely watching the U.S. legislation.

Democrats have criticized the Republican-backed measure as an election-year appeal to the party's conservative base, particularly the religious right.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, recently appeared at a hearing in Iowa -- the state that holds the first presidential nominating contest in 2008 -- to listen to concerns about Internet gambling.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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