He led the 1994 congressional hearings that eventually spawned the federal commission that investigated the spread of legalized gambling.
He wants to remove automated teller machines from casino floors.
He co-sponsored a bill to ban the use of credit cards in Internet gambling.
And no, he is not longtime gaming foe Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.
Instead, he is Rep. John LaFalce, a 14-term Democratic congressman from Buffalo, N.Y., and he remains a key player in federal efforts to rein in the explosive nationwide growth of gambling.
LaFalce, 61, shrugs off any suggestion that he has been overlooked as the energetic Wolf has emerged to be regarded as the casino industry’s chief critic in Congress.
“If the Democrats had been in the majority, I would have received the credit or blame and with the Republicans in the majority, Frank has received the credit or the blame,” LaFalce said. “That’s the way it goes.”
Last year, LaFalce was the leading Democratic sponsor of a bill barring credit card companies from authorizing payments to gambling web sites.
Though it stops short of the total ban on Internet gambling advocated by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and many others, LaFalce’s measure is gaining support as a practical alternative. Some say it may very well replace prohibition as Congress’ attempt to regulate wagering on the Web.
“It’s taken a lot more seriously than the Goodlatte bill primarily because it doesn’t fool around with the ISPs (Internet service providers),” said Joseph Kelly, a professor of business law at State University College of New York at Buffalo, who helped draft Internet gambling regulations for Antigua.
Instead of requiring Internet service providers to pull the plug on on cyber-gambling sites, LaFalce’s bill “goes after credit card companies, and that’s a much more feasible approach,” Kelly said.
The House Banking Committee, now known as the Financial Singapore Online Casino Services Committee, passed the credit card ban by voice vote last June but it never made it to the House floor for a final vote.
The Internet gambling prohibition also stalled in the House after Goodlatte tried but failed to allay the concerns of Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., and other free-market Republicans who are wary of any efforts to regulate the Internet.
There was talk of adding the credit card ban to Goodlatte’s bill as an amendment, but it never happened. Goodlatte has said he plans to re-introduce his bill this year, but spokeswoman Michelle Semones said adding the credit card ban “hasn’t been discussed.”
LaFalce, the leading Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, said he plans to re-introduce the credit card ban, but probably won’t make a final decision until the middle of the month.
“I think that there is a very serious problem with Internet gambling,” LaFalce said. “Anybody who can access an Internet can gamble – anybody of any age. It doesn’t have to be a computer in an office. You can carry around a pocket computer wherever you go 24 hours a day.”
The casino industry originally supported an Internet gambling ban proposed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-
Ariz., which sailed through the Senate by voice vote in November 1999.
But last year the industry began reassessing its position. MGM Mirage chairman Terry Lanni and other casino executives see the Internet as a potentially lucrative market and momentum seems to be shifting away from industry support of a ban to neutrality and perhaps even opposition.
LaFalce suggested the casino industry should not be hasty to soften its stand against Internet gaming.
“If gambling has a societal benefit, it’s primarily what it can do for tourism in certain areas of the country such as Las Vegas,” LaFalce said. “To the extent that you permit universal gambling, you either restrict significantly or eliminate altogether the attractiveness of gambling as a tourist draw.”
When the banking committee considered the credit card ban on Internet gambling last year, LaFalce offered and then withdrew an amendment that would have removed automated teller machines from casino premises. He said he still believed in the ATM ban, which was recommended by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, but withdrew it because it was not relevant to the credit card measure.
LaFalce said he plans to offer the ATM ban again this year as a free-standing bill, but would not rule out tacking it onto the credit card ban or a broader bill prohibiting all Internet gambling.
If LaFalce follows through with the credit card bill, he probably will have a new Republican co-sponsor. Last year’s GOP co-sponsor, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, is no longer the chairman of the committee because of Republican term limits.
LaFalce said he does not know if the new chairman, Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, will co-sponsor the credit card ban on Internet gambling.
LaFalce said he has an excellent working relationship with Oxley, “but Jim and I may have been more similar in our governmental policy positions.”