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Governor urges Congress to reject Internet gambling expansion

Gov. Rick Scott may be in the midst of deciding whether to allow the expansion of gambling in Florida with his negotiations with the Seminole Tribe, but this week he made it clear he vigorously opposes Internet gambling.

In a letter to congressional leaders on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the governor urged Congress to clarify that the federal Wire Act bars online state lottery sales and reverse a Department of Justice ruling last year that opened the door to internet gambling.

“Allowing Internet gaming to invade the homes of every American family, and be piped into our dens, our living rooms, our workplaces, and even our kids’ bedrooms and dorm rooms is a major decision,’’ the governor wrote in the three-page letter. “We must carefully examine the short and long-term social and economic consequences before Internet gambling spreads.”  Download INTERNET GAMING LETTER

He urged Congress to “step in now and call a ‘time-out’ by restoring the decades-long interpretation of the Wire Act.”

While many existing casino companies are behind the online gambling push, a key opponent has been Sheldon Adelson, head the Las Vegas Sands gambling empire who asked the governor to write the letter. He has bankrolled a group, the Coaltion to Stop Internet Gambling and has personally persuaded other GOP governors to join the cause.

Congress enacted the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, also known as the Federal Wire Act, to prohibit sports betting through wire communication.  For years, the Justice Department interpreted the wire act to include all forms of internet gambling but in 2011, the Justice Department released a formal legal opinion on the scope of the wire act and concluded that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.”

That opened the door to off-shore gambling operators, and U.S.-based casino giants, to invest in state-based Internet gambling operations. Three states, New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada, have since passed legislation authorizing Internet gambling and it is available throughout Europe.

The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling warns that if these efforts are allowed, there will be little to no control over who is exposed to gambling. Children and gambling addicts could have unlimited access to games as they play in the comfort of their homes on lap tops and tablets, the group warns, and organized crime and international terrorists could use the enterprises to hide capital and launder money.

While many existing casino companies are behind the online gambling push, a key opponent has been Sheldon Adelson, head the Las Vegas Sands gambling empire who asked the governor to write the letter. He has bankrolled a group, the Coaltion to Stop Internet Gambling and has personally persuaded other GOP governors to join the cause.

“We appreciate you consideration of our views,’’ Scott wrote, “and look forward ot working with you on developing a sensible policy that protects Americans and preserves the traditional role of the states in controlling gambling within their borders.”

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