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Gambling over the Internet could become a federal offense, punishable by a fine of at least $20,000 and up to four years in jail – if Arizona Republican senator John Kyl gets his way. His bill has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and he is now seeking a vote of the Senate floor before Congress recesses early next month. If the bill passes as it stands, internet wagering will be a federal crime even if the states in which bets are placed have legalized the practice. The bill was revised at the last minute to remove a provision that allowed internet bets if it was legal in both the state of origin and jurisdiction in which the bet was accepted. At present net gambling is regulated at the state level, which doesn’t make much sense as the Internet is a global medium, but this bill would obviously nip the nascent industry in the bud in the US anyhow. Various groups are opposing the bill, including the Interactive Service Association. There was also a provision in the bill that would try and apply the law outside US borders, but that was dropped. But the bill does require the secretary of state and the secretary of treasury to seek an international agreement to enforce the law. Most of the gambling sites at the moment are offshore, so this would be essential to target the operators, although the bill would enable the prosecution of users if it passes. The fine would be for $20,000 or the value of the bet – which ever is higher. The legislation removes Internet service providers from the enforcement process – it must be initiated by federal prosecutors or state attorney’s general. At the moment it is up to the local police departments.

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