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Opposition grows to US online gaming ban 27/04/2007
Andrew Clark in New York

Democrats in the US Congress have begun a campaign to repeal America's controversial ban on internet gambling which plunged the gaming industry into crisis last year and prompted the arrest of several British executives.

Barney Frank, the chairman of the House financial services committee, introduced a bill yesterday to legalise online betting, citing its economic benefits and personal freedom.

"Adults, in their own homes, should be able to engage in a form of activity they enjoy and which has no conceivable negative effect on anybody else," Mr Frank told a press conference.

His proposal would allow gambling companies to take bets from US citizens online as long as they implemented safeguards for compulsive gamblers or children. It envisages a licensing regime allowing the US government to collect tax on bets. Investment firm Friedman Billings Ramsay has estimated that taxing online betting could raise $20bn over five years for the US treasury.

Pressure is mounting on the US government over the issue. The World Trade Organisation ruled last month that the ban was illegal because certain domestic activities, including horseracing, were exempt, making it discriminatory against foreign companies.

That could help the former Betonsports boss David Carruthers, who has been under house arrest in Missouri since last summer pending charges of running an illegal gambling racket. According to court documents, the judge in the case, Mary Ann Medler, has offered Mr Carruthers' lawyers the opportunity to use the ruling to argue for dismissal of the case.

Mr Carruthers, who is Scottish, was arrested while changing planes in the US during a trip to Costa Rica.

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