US President George W. Bush this week is expected to sign a bill making it harder to place bets on the Internet, a practice which already is illegal in the United States.
Bush was expected to act quickly after Congress approved the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act making it illegal for financial institutions and credit card companies to process payments to settle Internet bets. It also created stiff penalties for online wagers.
Billions of dollars are wagered online each year and the United States is considered the biggest market.
"It is extraordinary how many American families have been touched by large losses from Internet gambling," said US Representative Jim Leach, the bill's main sponsor in the House, in a statement after its passage early Saturday.
The bill's chief Senate sponsor was conservative Republican Jon Kyl, who, like Leach, has said he believed Internet gambling was a moral threat. He has called online betting as the Internet version of crack cocaine.
"Gambling can be highly addictive, especially when it's done over an unregulated environment such as the Internet" he said this year.
"If Congress had not acted, gamblers would soon be able to place bets not just from home computers, but from their cell phones while they drive home from work or their Blackberries as they wait in line at the movies," Leach said.
The US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board will jointly develop implementing rules for the new law, while financial institutions have nine months to incorporate its provision.
Leach cited research which showed that young people who tend to spend hours of leisure time on the Internet, are particularly vulnerable.
A 2005 survey by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 26 percent of male college students gamble in online card games at least once a month, while nearly 10 percent of all college students gambled online at some point last year.
"Never has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age. The casino is in effect brought to the home, office and college dorm.
"Children may play without verification, and betting with a credit card can undercut a player's perception of the value of cash, which too easily leads to bankruptcy and crime," Leach said.
Experts said the vast majority of bettors are placing wagers on poker.
"Everyone loses if this industry continues its remarkable growth trends," Leach said.
Republicans tucked the measure into a bill aimed at enhancing port security, which passed early Saturday.