by Jeffrey Silva

WASHINGTON. Internet gambling — wireline and wireless — should be regulated and legal, according to speakers at a forum here Monday.

A panel representing academia, industry, advertising and media concluded that online gambling could operate legally and safely in this country so long as federal regulations are enacted to protect consumers, according to a press release issued by BETonSPORTS plc, the largest online wagering service and sponsor of the event.

Congress has pursued Internet gambling legislation, but cannot agree on how it should be written.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, explained that consumer protection safeguards should apply to all gambling, including land-based and Internet gaming.

“The distinctions between the types of gambling, based on how they’re delivered to the participant, seem arbitrary,” he said. “The point is, the operator has the obligation to develop responsible gaming policies, regardless of whether the gambling is on the lottery, at a church bingo night, or on the Internet. There seems to be no theoretical reason that Internet gambling operators could not develop programs that meet or exceed current land-based responsible gaming practices.”

David Carruthers, chief executive officer of BETonSPORTS, stated, “We have to act responsibly. We want to set the example for hosting a safe Internet site, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes.”

William Heberer, an attorney with the firm of Manatt, Phelps and Philips LLP, said the Justice Department relies on an outdated law—the 1961 Wire Communications Act—in claiming that wagering over the Internet is illegal.

“The Wire Act is an antiquated statute that the government is using to intimidate companies from accepting advertising for Internet gambling sites,” Heberer stated. “This is a law that was developed to stop racketeering over the phone more than 50 years ago. They are manipulating the law to cover a technology that was not even invented when the Act was written.”

Emily Hancock, an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, stated, “The DoJ’s actions are not only overreaching, but if this leads to outright prohibition, it will put an unreasonable burden on the Internet service providers to block online gambling.”

Heberer also criticized outright prohibition as no more effective than “the little boy with his finger in the dyke. There will be no way to enforce it with consumers. From a consumer point of view it’s better for government to bring online gambling into the light of day. This is the time to address Internet gaming regulation.”