The Department of Justice ruled last December that the 1961 Wire Act bans only sports betting, not other forms of online wagering, reversing its position of many years. That cleared the way for cash-strapped states to explore offering online gambling to their residents. …

But the states are setting up a patchwork of rules, none of which allows playing across state lines, increasing pressure for federal action and legislation. Fahrenkopf, for one, is skeptical that states will be able to effectively regulate online gambling. …

Both the brick-and-mortar casino industry — which could perceive a threat from a sweeping expansion of its trade on the Web — and poker aficionados have thrown their support behind narrow legislation that would legalize just online poker while banning all other forms of Internet gambling.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., are working on such legislation in the Senate, and Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, backs that approach in the House.