19 November 2006

By Liz Benston
November 19, 2006

Passing bills in the dead of night without a lick of debate was business as usual in President Bush’s Republican-controlled Congress. But the details behind the October passage of a controversial Internet gambling prohibition bill was enough to make even jaded political observers’ hair stand on end.

At the world’s largest casino convention this week, casino insiders of both political persuasions buzzed about how the bill passed in the final hours of the pre-election congressional session.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Funding Prohibition Act – cumbersome, confusing and potentially ineffective – further criminalized an already illegal activity.

While the bill is unlikely to curb the public’s appetite for online gambling, the legislation will make it more difficult for Americans to find reputable sites that will accept their money.

The real purpose of the bill, conventiongoers said, was to pander to religious conservatives. The House passed legislation authored by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, but passage of a Senate compromise bill was unlikely after senators objected to a move by anti-gambling advocate Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., to fast-track the Leach bill to a floor vote in the Senate.

Enter Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who approached Leach for his support of the Internet gambling measure. Critics say (and Leach disputes) that Frist agreed to shepherd the bill in exchange for Leach’s support in Frist’s potential presidential bid in 2008. (The Iowa caucus has been an indicator of which candidate will receive his party’s nomination for president.)

Frist’s support for the Leach bill was more than critical – it was necessary. Spurned by senators from two appropriations committees to attach the Internet gambling measure, Frist went behind their backs, attaching the language to a port security bill that was voted on after midnight.

No meeting, no reading, no debate – no problem. Many members of the Homeland Security Committee – not to mention most senators – hadn’t read the bill.

“There was only one vote on that bill,” Internet gambling expert and Whittier Law School professor I. Nelson Rose said in an interview. “Bill Frist doesn’t want to be president. He wants to be dictator.”
Liz Benston can be reached at 259-4077 or at


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