WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden is not, according to news reports, a terribly big fan of Western vices.
Nor has there been any reliable confirmation that last month’s suicide-hijackers, who completed the bloodiest terrorist attack in American history, were habitual gamblers.
But that didn’t stop the House Financial Services committee from voting 62-1 on Thursday for an “anti-terrorism” bill that limits Internet gambling.
In the words of Rep. Marge Roukema (R-New Jersey): “We’ve heard testimony from the FBI, the Department of Justice, and law enforcement that there is a clean nexus, a connection, between Internet gambling and money laundering of terrorism activities.”
The measure has been dubbed the “Financial Anti-Terrorism Act” (PDF), and it prohibits financial institutions from accepting credit cards, electronic transfers and checks used in online gambling. Another part of the 121-page bill gives the Customs Service more power to inspect packages sent through the mail.
While all but one of the committee voted for the bill with the gambling prohibitions included, legislators did spend some time arguing about it first.
Rep. Michael Castle (R-Delaware), who unsuccessfully tried to remove the language through an amendment, said: “My concern is we’re imposing an obligation on financial companies to check virtually all of their statements, especially customers who deal with websites.”
Castle’s amendment, which would have deleted almost all of the gambling-related sections, failed by a vote of 25-37.
The vote wasn’t a partisan one: Some Republicans applauded Castle’s proposal, saying that otherwise the bill would slap an undue burden on banks and credit card firms, while others were eager to hand more power to police.
Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) lauded additional restrictions on online gambling, saying: “What we’re talking about is an illegal act today, and we want the enforcement of current laws today.”
Democrats were similarly split, with ranking member Rep. John LaFalce (D-New York) saying that college students must be shielded from gambling’s lure.
“The chief users of Internet gambling are not terrorists, they are our youths,” said LaFalce. “Lots of different kids are given credit cards — not one — multiple cards. It’s easy to gamble from dormitory rooms, or with wireless connections from campus quads, or with Palm Pilots any place.”
During the 90-minute debate, liberal icon Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) sounded almost libertarian. “Too many people who disapprove of gambling want to ban it,” Frank said. “It’s not generally been the policy of the U.S. government to tell people how to spend their money.”
The bill would ban credit card companies from issuing card numbers to be used on gambling websites. Credit card firms and banks would be liable if they have “actual knowledge” that they may be providing services to online casinos, a penalty that some members said went too far.
“The problem with actual knowledge is that a court can assume this,” said Castle, the sponsor of the unsuccessful amendment.
The only committee member who voted against the final Judi Slot Online bill was Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Texas.
Paul said the anti-gambling sections were about “whether the government should try and mold behavior. Over centuries governments have tried to do this…. Gambling is entertainment. We should not allow government to regulate entertainment.”
Another section of the bill grants Customs greater power to search international mail shipped via the U.S. Postal Service. According to the bill, Customs may “search” any envelope or package without a warrant.
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) tried to increase the privacy protections — by requiring search warrants in most cases — but his amendment failed by a vote of 20-43.