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An Agent for Change in Online Gaming

National Journal Daily Oct. 11, 2011

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is upping the ante in the fight against illegal Internet gambling. He has joined the advisory board of FairPlayUSA, a new coalition of law-enforcement officials, consumer-protection experts, and other groups concerned about the need to regulate Internet gambling.

Although Freeh has held numerous positions over his extensive career, including FBI director, U.S. attorney, and professor, he actually got his start working to eradicate illegal gambling. Freeh joined the FBI as a young agent in New York City in 1975, where he was assigned to an organized-crime squad in Manhattan that focused primarily on illegal gambling activities. He wondered at the time why the FBI was spending so much time working on that kind of caseā€¹most people they caught were released on bail, and back in another wire room within 24 hours.

But illegal gambling holds more significance than just that of each individual criminal or operation, Freeh discovered. Gambling generates big sums of cash that are then used by larger crime organizations to engage in more-serious offenses, such as murder or narcotics.

After many years as an agent, Freeh became an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in 1981 and later was chief of the Organized Crime Unit, deputy U.S. attorney, and associate U.S. attorney. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed Freeh a federal judge in the New York district.

In 1993, Freeh got a call from President Clinton, asking him to join the FBI as director, and he accepted. The pre-9/11 bureau was very different from the organization that exists today, Freeh explained: Where now agents are focused on counterterrorism, during Freeh's term agents concentrated on white-collar crime, particularly in the rapidly expanding area of cybercrime.

As director, Freeh worked on various projects related to cybersecurity, in particular the passage of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which enhanced the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance in the new age of digital telephone networks.

Freeh also focused on expanding the organization's presence overseas. When he began as director, the FBI had only 10 offices abroad; when he left in 2001, it had 61.

Since his tenure ended, Freeh has worked primarily in consulting and as a practicing lawyer. He has served on the board of directors of credit card issuer MBNA, which was bought by Bank of America in 2005, and has taught a course on white-collar crime at Widener University School of Law since 2004. As a lawyer, he has represented Saudi Arabian Prince Bandar bin Sultan on issues surrounding a 2009 arms deal, and has been involved in several other high-profile cases. In 2007, Freeh founded Freeh Group International Solutions, a consulting and investigative firm.

Now, Freeh is getting back to his roots. The goal of FairPlayUSA, he said, is to make the regulations of online poker organizations more transparent, to ensure that proceeds don't go to feed larger criminal enterprises.

Freeh believes that the statute that currently regulates legal online gambling, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, is inadequate. The illegal gambling market has grown to $6 billion in the U.S., and law enforcement does not have the resources to crack down on these operations. Freeh's goal is to update the statute's definition of legal versus illegal gambling, and to ultimately create a more secure environment in which America's poker players can pursue their hobby.

"People have a right to gamble as they have a right to drive," Freeh said. "Online poker is an American pastime, it's an American endeavor. The FairPlay goal is to ensure that that happens in a safe, law-abiding environment."

Freeh emphasized that FairPlayUSA is not a lobbying group, and that it intends to operate as a resource for lawmakers which will allow them to make more-informed decisions. The group is focused on outreach and education to start a discussion that will lead to passing legislation that will crack down on unregulated websites.

Freeh is not worried about a backlash from online poker players who might not welcome government interference. He believes that all players will benefit from a safe environment in which they can be sure the game is not rigged, and their money is not going to fund illegal operations.

The tightening of security would be "seamless from the player point of view," he said. "What we'd like to see is a safe environment, a fair one too, where if you want to do online poker you can do it, and the government knows that the network is secure," Freeh said.