10/01/2002 11:00PM

Bill won't affect racing

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The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday night making it illegal to use credit and debit cards at offshore Internet gambling sites, in a vote that was largely designed to help representatives in their upcoming election battles.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Leach of Iowa, is not expected to have any impact on account wagering through horse racing sites, racing lobbyists said on Wednesday. Most racing account-wagering operators allow their customers to use credit cards for deposits, and some operators allow users to deposit and withdrawl money using debit cards.

"It's aimed at offshore, illegal, unlawful wagering," said Jay Hickey, the executive director of the American Horse Council, the racing industry's lobbying arm. "It doesn't prohibit the extension of credit on lawful wagering. And it excludes from the definition of a wager any bet that is authorized by a business licensed by a state. We feel that those two provisions will allow us to go forward with what we are doing."

Most racing officials give the bill little chance of coming up for a vote in the Senate, which is mired in debates over spending bills and a resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq. The Senate is expected to adjourn on Oct. 18 so that lawmakers can return to their home districts in preparation for elections the first week of November.

The vote in the House was taken under a suspension of the rules, which limits floor debate and requires a two-thirds vote of the representatives in attendance in order to pass. No official tally of the voice vote was available.

Racing lobbyists said they expected the bill to pass in the House. "Who in their right mind is going to vote against a bill that looks like it is anti-gambling right before going back home to campaign?" said one lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Still, racing officials said that the continuing federal effort to place restrictions on account wagering - legislation similar to the Leach bill has been introduced every year for the past three years - is training a spotlight on the racing industry and the exemptions it has generally received for Internet and telephone betting. The attention is beginning to have negative consequences as racing repeats over and over again that it deserves the exemption over the objections of powerful lobbyists employed by the casino and Native American industries.

"We're going to continue to be in the spotlight, because everyone is aware now that we are currently allowed to do this," said Greg Avioli, the deputy commissioner and chief lobbyist of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. "We keep hearing that we have these unfair exceptions. It doesn't seem like it is going to die."