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McCaskill, Blunt, eye changes to federal gambling laws

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act, which prohibited almost all forms of online gambling. But the law had much of its teeth removed in 2011 when the Justice Department issued a memorandum opinion that the law could only be applied to online sports betting, and no other games of chance.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill

At a Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection last month, which Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill chairs, several senators — including McCaskill and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt — discussed the need for new gambling regulations on the federal level.

Missouri laws regarding gambling are restrictive. The state constitution narrowly defines gambling activities and the state legislature’s power to regulate them. In fact, Missouri lawmakers cannot pass laws dealing with most forms of gambling unless they first amend the constitution of the State, which they did in the 1980’s to implement the state lottery.

Laws regarding common forms of online gambling like poker are tricky.

According to the Missouri Gaming Commission, it is perfectly legal to participate in an online poker tournament, but not to host one. Laws become even more complex if the gambling activity online is being hosted by an out-of-state entity.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt

“What works on the floor of a casino in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Biloxi or St. Louis may not work in the virtual world of online gambling,” McCaskill said during the hearing.

McCaskill’s office confirmed that the Senator and her Committee Co-Chair, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, currently are exploring the next steps in drafting legislation to rectify the difference in 50 state laws all with different gambling regulations.

Blunt was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when the 2006 law was passed, and he heavily supported it. During the hearing, he too extolled the value of “one single legal standard” for gaming, particularly online, rather than a variety of state or local laws.

The offices of both senators confirmed that they’ve continued to negotiate a possible federal mechanism to regulate online gambling, and for states like Missouri where technology is easily outpacing the law, such changes would ease the burden off statewide licensing entities like the MGC, and even assist the Attorney General’s office in more easily prosecuting the crimes.