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UK to hold global talks on online gaming

Britain plans to hold global online gaming talks this year to seek support for its move to regulate the fast growing industry and help protect children from gaining access to the businesses' websites.

The push for an international meeting comes after a booming but volatile Internet gambling market saw three big UK stock market floats in 2005, generating multi-billion dollar revenues.

"We want to initiate a discussion about problem areas which include protection of children, advertising, money laundering and criminal infiltration," said Anthony Wright, a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Monday.

Britain is now home to businesses such as online gambling operator PartyGaming, which in mid-2005 came to the market as the biggest float in London in five years.

The country introduced the Gambling Act late last year as part of a move to modernise the country's 40-year-old gambling laws via a new regulatory framework. Aspects of the bill drew criticism from opposition politicians and welfare groups that warned of gambling addiction and crime amid liberalisation.

Online casinos and poker rooms form a market valued at up to $12 billion a year globally.

Online poker has surged in popularity as it pulls in a wider audience than traditional casino gambling -- often including women and younger players who may not have visited casinos.

Better broadband access and the convenience of playing at home have also helped the boom.

"We became the first industrialised nation to legalise online gaming ... The reason we introduced the act was to regulate the new forms of gambling. We can only get so far on our own," Wright told Reuters.

The ministry has yet to send invitation letters for the meeting but has received positive feedback from Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the laws that prohibit interstate gambling apply to the Internet, but that has not stopped Americans turning to offshore gambling Internet sites as an alternative.

Efforts to pass an Internet anti-gambling law that applies specifically in the United States have stumbled in Congress since at least the late 1990s amid a thicket of competing interests including horse racing, dog racing, state lotteries, Indian casinos and anti-gambling crusaders.

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