‘Slim’ hope for repeal of US gaming bill

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Barney Frank, the chairman of the House financial services committee, on Thursday damped hopes that US Congress would soon repeal a controversial law to curb online gambling, saying such a move lacked support among lawmakers.

Mr Frank told journalists in Brussels that he remained committed to overturning a bill that effectively bars credit card companies from accepting bets placed by US citizens on foreign websites. He also attacked last year’s arrest of a senior British gambling executive in the US, saying that “one of the most Stalinist things I have ever seen my government do was to arrest this poor guy”.

The Democratic congressman said he would introduce a bill to repeal the ban in the coming weeks, but voiced scepticism about its chances of success: “I think a reconsideration among my colleagues is beginning but it is not far enough along yet. If the storm of public unhappiness is great enough then I will try to substantially revise that ban.”

Mr Frank’s scepticism reflects the political challenge he faces in seeking to overturn last year’s ban. Although lobbyists familiar with the issue say the Democratic victory in last year’s congressional election represented an opportunity for the online gaming industry after the Republican-controlled Congress passed the law, most admit the chances of a proposal passing both the House and Senate are slim.

Both Mr Frank and John Conyers, who chairs the House judiciary committee, are known to oppose last year’s ban, but Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the House have not expressed any support for a reversal of the gaming bill. The prospects for a reversal of the bill look even worse in the Senate, where it would take the opposition of just one lawmaker to keep the bill from ever getting a vote.

Online gaming groups and financial services companies are, in the meantime, anxiously awaiting news from the US Treasury about how the government intends to implement the ban. The Treasury is expected to release a proposed regulation in coming weeks.

Mr Frank on Thursday also urged changes to US legislation that would allow public authorities to scrutinise the impact of private equity takeovers on the target company’s pension scheme. Citing the UK example, where the Pension Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund have powers to prevent companies from walking away from pension obligations in mergers and takeovers, he said “this role for the pension guarantor . . . is something we might borrow.”

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