Saturday, January 11, 2003

Ind. bill targets gamblers who bet on the Net

Committee to consider felony charges for gamblers, casinos

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Web-based casinos, online gamblers and their Internet providers could all face felony charges and jail time in Indiana under a bill to be considered next week by a state Senate committee.

"Internet gambling is completely unregulated. It's pretty insidious," said Sen. David Ford, R-Hartford City, sponsor of the legislation.

The Senate Economic Development and Technology Committee is scheduled to consider the bill Monday. The full Senate passed a similar measure last year, but it died in the House.

Internet gambling is illegal in Indiana under the federal Interstate Wire Act, which prohibits using telephone lines or other wire communications to place bets, said Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter.

But Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford agree that law does not give state prosecutors any tools to combat the growing industry.

"Any time the Legislature addresses a matter and declares something a crime, it becomes clearer to the public that that's the case," Mr. Carter told the Courier-Journal of Louisville.

There are now more than 1,800 Internet gambling sites - all based in foreign countries - and they are expected to generate more than $6 billion in revenue this year, according to Christiansen Capital Advisors, an accounting firm that specializes in gambling.

About 60 percent of that money comes from the United States.

Mr. Ford's bill would allow prosecutors to charge online gamblers in Indiana with a Class D felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Illegal gambling in Indiana is a misdemeanor now.

But the intent of the bill is not to target individuals who gamble illegally.

"You really can't go after an individual in their home, nor does anybody want to do that," he said. "Honestly, like so many laws, it's really a matter of saying: `This is state policy and please observe it.' Then you hope people do."

Mr. Ford acknowledges that stopping the growth of the industry would be difficult, largely because casinos typically use offshore servers as hosts for their Web sites.

So Mr. Ford wants to make Internet providers based in the United States responsible for blocking gambling sites from Indiana customers.

The bill allows prosecutors to send a written notice to Internet service providers saying that Web-based gambling is illegal.

The notice would list specific Web sites that offer gambling and require Internet providers to restrict their Indiana customers' access to those sites within 30 days.

If companies fail to comply, they could be charged with a Class D felony. Casino operators could face the same penalty.

The bill would require the state attorney general to maintain a list of gambling Web sites that Internet providers must block.

Eventually, Mr. Ford said, Internet providers would routinely acquire new lists from the attorney general and make the appropriate changes to block the sites.

"I think that 99 percent of Internet providers, like most businesses, want to be responsible and do the right thing," he said.

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