WASHINGTON - Congress's ban on Internet gambling is so vague that figuring out how to enforce it is a struggle, say federal officials charged with the task.
"I think it is very difficult without having more of a bright line about what is intended to be unlawful Internet gambling," Louise Roseman, head of the Federal Reserve's bank operations division, told a House hearing yesterday. "The challenge we have is interpreting something, particularly federal laws, that Congress itself isn't sure what they mean," she said.
Congress passed the ban with little notice in 2006 when Senate Republicans, pushed by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist, attached it to an unrelated port security bill in a rush of year-end legislation.
Internet gambling already was considered mostly illegal in the United States, but the games are played by many US residents on sites hosted overseas in a business worth more than $15.5 billion a year. US bettors have been estimated to provide half that revenue.
The congressional ban sought to explicitly outlaw Internet gambling but didn't offer a clear definition everyone could agree on, instead referring to existing federal and state laws which themselves provoke differing interpretations. It put the burden on financial institutions by prohibiting them from accepting payments from credit cards, checks, or electronic fund transfers to settle online wagers.