What will be the fate of the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act?

The indictment a couple weeks back of California state Sen. Rod Wright, a champion of Internet gambling in its most important U.S. state, capped a month in which supporters of legalization saw their hopes fall faster than President Obama’s approval ratings.

That same week, the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that it had nailed a TARP bank in Arizona for providing clearing services for a company that processes online gambling transactions, a practice that is illegal in the United States. (The company in question had already agreed to forfeit to the Justice Department a tidy $13 million.)

But the real bad news commenced with the results of a Gallup poll released the first week of September in which the Republicans scored their largest lead ever on the infamous question: “If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?”

Mind you, the perjury and voter fraud charges Wright faces, stemming from an allegation that he does not live in the district he represents, aren’t likely to ruin the Los Angeles County Democrat, although they will prove a distraction. On the other hand, if the GOP regains control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, too, which is what the polls and prognosticators were telling us all through September, you can wave goodbye to any chance that Web gambling will be regulated at the federal level any time soon.

In the spirit of this electoral season let me offer a prediction as to the precise day and hour when Barney Frank’s crusade for federally regulated Internet gambling collides with Mother Earth’s cold, hard bosom - 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on November 2, which is when the polls will have closed west of the Rockies and millions of us will be staring blankly at our TV sets, trying to process the realization that progressive government in Washington may well be dead for a generation.

I should add that I’m lousy at predictions.

If you’d asked me a year ago I’d have told you no way that Obama, the Jackie Robinson of American political history, would fall from grace as precipitously and inexplicably as he has, and that in the midst of this historic recession an electorate apparently grown desperate for answers would turn instead to the very guys who led us to the brink of economic disaster. Yet here we stand, dazed it seems, the end of our American Century drawing ever nearer even as the rhetoric of empire grows louder and more hysterical, unable to find our way through the miasma of fear and hate that has rendered the air of civic discourse all but unbreathable. But we’ve come to define ourselves wholly in terms of consumption, haven’t we, and it’s made us vacuous as a culture, and now with the triumph of the little screens (we already had the endless chatter) perhaps we can be absolved for failing to foresee how volatile things could get.

Me, I was thrown a few months ago when Frank finally managed after three years to get his Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act out of his own House Financial Services Committee - a feat which in hindsight may be even less impressive than I think it is, but then who can say what the final days of a lame-duck Congress hold in store. Frank certainly knows he may not have a committee after the first week of January. And Democrats being Democrats they can get tangled up in distractions of principle, which is about the only nice way to describe online gambling.

Anyway, with the bill out there and the offshore operators all stoked, it occurred to me that maybe I was wrong as usual, so I asked Chris Krafcik, a St. Louis-based journalist and consultant who’s been covering the Web gambling saga as closely as anyone, to look into it. His findings, delivered with his customary detail and insight, are the subject of this month’s cover story.