UK bookies wary of US market
By staff
Last week the Leach Bill (H.R.21) cleared one hurdle on the way to becoming law, and effectively outlawing Internet betting for US punters. That hasn’t gone down too well with UK bookies, who would like a chunk of that market. But few are prepared to risk the wrath of US legislators and face the prospect of being denied a license if and when the US decides to legalize Internet betting.

Ed Pownall, spokesman for online bookmaker Blue Square, said: 'Obviously the US is Holy Grail territory for us, but we've never accepted US bets, which is a policy based on the fact that if in 10, 15 or 20 years' time they do start awarding licences to operate in the US they are very unlikely to grant a licence to anybody who flouted the ban at any point.'

Critics of the US anti-gambling lobby claim the US government does not have the jurisdiction to stop what its citizens are doing while effectively 'overseas' - providing they are acting within the laws of the country where the website is registered. But the Leach Bill is an example of how some in the US are trying to get around this legal nicety.

'While [the US government] may not have the authority or the jurisdiction to enforce this ban, they do have the power to pressure credit card companies and payment companies into withdrawing all support for people trying to place bets online,' said Pownall. 'They have already won the battle with PayPal and cutting people off at this level can prove very effective.

'I think this is probably just bluster from the US government, but they do carry a great deal of power and I think in the long term it will serve us better to be seen to be toeing the line,' he added.

Pownall believes the prospect of eventually being allowed to operate in the US should be enough to keep most UK bookmakers honest in the US.

One bookmaker who accepted bets from the US until last year was William Hill. But Graham Sharpe a spokesman for the company says that the US isn’t the be all and end all of online betting.

'There is a lot of world out there,' he said. 'We have clients in some 200 countries of the world now and the number of new domestic clients betting via the Internet is still increasing.'

However, he refused to rule out a return to US waters should there be any change in legislation. 'Just because we are not targeting US business at the moment does not mean we never will,' he said.

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