|H.R. 556 – AKA The “Leach Bill” or the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act - is unlikely to pass in the US Senate, despite getting a 7-0 approval from the House of Representatives last week. But if it does, one of the casualties could be Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who could be required to block access to or pull advertising from offshore gambling web sites.|
In the unlikely event of the bill becoming law, ISPs seem happy to comply. At least, as long as it doesn’t require too much work on their part. ISPs have been following the progress of the legislation to determine their possible liability for running Internet gambling adverts, and Dave McClure, president and CEO of the United States Internet Industry Association (USIIA) said that ISPs would likely comply.
'We looked at the bill and saw nothing threatening,' McClure said. 'We saw no constitutional violations and ISPs have a long-term history of cooperating with law enforcement officials. Clearly, ISPs would participate.'
McClure said that ISPs were initially concerned at reports in the media suggesting that they would be held liable for advertising and hosting online casinos. But the language in the legislation isn’t that cut and dried, he said.
The bill aims to prohibit US residents from gambling at offshore Internet sites that are beyond the jurisdiction of the US. The method of achieving this is to prohibit US-based banks and credit card companies from accepting gambling-related transactions online.
However, the provision in the bill that would require ISPs to block access or ads would require a federal or state court order, and more importantly, ISPs would have no legal obligation to monitor their networks for gambling adverts. It is this “no obligation” clause that persuaded the USIIA to support the bill.
'We have also followed reasonable court orders,' McClure said. 'It has always been our contention that it isn't our place to determine what is and isn't acceptable in our society, but if the legislature and the courts tell us to take something down, we will.'
Not everyone involved in gambling is so laid back about the bill. Frank Catania, a former director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, thinks that too much of the burden of enforcement still lies with ISPs. Catania says that if the Leach Bill passes, it could be the thin end of the wedge in other areas of e-commerce.
'Can you imagine a court order being issued against a site because they are operating with no sales tax or something like that?' he said. 'I know of no other area in e-commerce that is being legislated in such a way. If this is the approach they are going to take here, then what is next?”
However, this is all likely to be much ado about nothing. If the bill fails to pass in the Senate before the end of the year (as is almost certain), it would die and have to be re-introduced in both chambers, as has happened before.