House Finance chairman ‘not optimistic’ about online gambling bill moving

Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) bill to legalize online gambling is facing some long odds.

Frank said last week that it’s unlikely the bipartisan measure, which has cleared his Financial Services Committee, will hit the House floor before the midterm elections.

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That puts the legislation in some serious trouble, especially because the House has been leading the charge on this issue.

Frank said he wants to see a floor vote on the legislation but, noting the cramped House floor schedule, indicated it would be tough to move his bill this month.

“I’m not optimistic,” Frank told The Hill.

Frank said he doesn’t have a commitment from House leadership officials that they would move the bill before the lame-duck session.

The Massachusetts congressman noted that he has been talking to senators about moving a bill in the upper chamber.

“There was some discussion over there to step up the pace,” Frank said.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has proposed a companion measure, but it hasn’t attracted any co-sponsors.

A Senate Democratic aide indicated it is highly unlikely the bill will move before the election. The staffer added there is a small chance it might move in the lame-duck session as an attachment to a jobs bill.

While the effort to legalize online gambling faces many obstacles, the legislation has a key asset: It raises revenue, making it an attractive offset.

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee who has been working with Frank, has introduced a bill that would set up the necessary infrastructure to tax legalized Internet gambling. McDermott’s bill would raise $72 billion over 10 years from new taxes on the industry.

Frank said he would like the House Ways and Means Committee to mark up McDermott’s bill so it could be paired with his.

“My ideal would be that Ways and Means would do that and they would come out together,” Frank said.

McDermott’s office, however, said his bill is not likely to be marked up by Ways and Means before the November elections because of time constraints.

Michael Waxman, a spokesman for the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative, which supports Frank’s legislation, said, “The greatest odds for online gambling regulation legislation to be approved this year are for it to get done as part of a larger legislative package, primarily because of the opportunity to dedicate the considerable new revenue generated as an offset for another program or need.”

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Some have speculated that Frank’s bill could be added to one of the many tax measures pending in Congress. Lawmakers are aiming to address the expiring Bush tax cuts by the end of the year.

Waxman noted that Frank’s bill has attracted support from Democrats and Republicans.

“While a positive vote out of the Ways and Means Committee will put more pressure on leadership to address this issue, I would hope it doesn’t go unnoticed that this is one of the few issues where broad support can be found on both sides of the aisle,” Waxman said.

Frank has been an aggressive advocate for legalizing online gambling since it was banned by a measure attached to a port security authorization bill in the fall of 2006.

Frank’s bill, which has 70 co-sponsors, was approved 41-22 by his Financial Services Committee in July.

Gaming companies and poker players have lobbied for the bill’s passage but have met resistance from lobbyists for conservative Christian groups and professional sports leagues.

In an interview before the August recess, Frank expressed confidence his bill has the votes to pass on the House floor.

Bob Cusack contributed to this article.