BANKS BREATHE SIGH OF RELIEF - ONLINE GAMBLING BAN POSSIBLY NOT AS BURDENSOME AS FEARED ON FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS

02 October 2006

CHRON.COM
Oct. 2, 2006, 1:33PM
Banks See Protections in Gambling Bill

By GREG EDWARDS Dow Jones Newswires
© 2006 The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — The Internet gambling legislation passed late last week by the U.S. Congress, which led to a major sell-off of Britain-based online gambling stocks Monday, remains a concern to the U.S. banking industry but isn’t as burdensome as feared.

“We got some language in the bill that looks like it protects the financial services industry,” said Steve Verdier, director of congressional relations for the Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents almost 5,000 banks in the United States. “It could have been a lot worse.”

The legislation is designed to prohibit U.S. banks and credit card companies from processing payments for illegal online gambling. Financial services companies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had expressed concerns about the compliance burdens that would be imposed, such as tracking and blocking potentially millions of transactions.

Under the legislation as passed, “If you are acting as a normal bank, and you’re not in some sort of conspiracy with a betting house, then you are not going to be held liable,” Verdier said.

In addition, the legislation will be guided and enforced by regulations written by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department.

“If they find that the banks just don’t have the technology to track and block these transactions, then we don’t have to,” Verdier said. “The Fed and Treasury are not supposed to ask us to do the impossible.”

Still, Verdier said, “we will have to see how those regulations get written.”

The legislation, attached to an unrelated port security bill, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Friday and by the U.S. Senate early Saturday. It is expected to be signed into law by President Bush.

Shares in Britain-based betting companies, such as PartyGaming PLC, 888 Holdings PLC and Sportingbet PLC, plunged Monday. The companies said they would suspend business from the United States if the legislation is enacted.

The U.S. Justice Department has been bringing fraud charges against online gambling companies and their executives.

For example, BetOnSports PLC and its former chief executive, David Carruthers, were indicted in June in federal court in St. Louis, and the company closed its U.S. operations Aug. 12.

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