Gambling, Goodlatte and Governmental Authoritarianism
by Robert Ferringo - 07/13/2006
Prohibition may be returning to the United States. Only this time its not alcohol that the government is trying to deprive its citizens of - it's online gambling.
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that could cripple the online gaming industry. The aim of the bill, co-sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R.-Va.) and Jim Leach (R.-Ia.), is to curb Internet gambling by making it illegal for banks to process payments made to offshore casinos by bettors via credit card, check, debit or any other form of electronic transaction. It passed by a vote of 317-93.
The legislation also updates the Wire Act of 1961, which forbade the transmission of betting over phone lines. Essentially, the bill makes gambling on the Internet illegal with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
This bill is part of a Republican package dubbed the "American Values Agenda", which appeals to the party's conservative base. The aim is to rally support and propel the Republicans to continued control of the House and Senate after November's midterm elections. The "agenda" lumps online gambling in with gay marriage and human cloning as serious ethical issues facing our nation.
"Online gambling is a scourge on society," Goodlatte said in published reports.
What's more hypocritical is that the bill included exceptions for Powerball, state-run lotteries and horse racing. Also, the Republican's have always prided themselves as the party of limited government but are now trying to regulate what adults do with their hard-earned money in the privacy of their own home.
One gaming lawyer was quoted in the Seattle press as saying, "Here's the country that has Las Vegas, Atlantic City, riverboats up to Iowa and Indian gambling under every tree. Not to mention state lotteries. Now you're going to run around and say Internet casinos are undermining the moral tone of the United States? It's just plain silly."
A Wall Street Journal poll published in March stated that 85 percent of Americans are against a congressional ban on Internet gambling. U.S. lawmakers believe that around 2,300 gambling sites exist.
There is some good news. Odds are that there isn't enough time left in the congressional calendar for this bill to advance through the Senate. There are about eight weeks left in the current session. And with all the last-minute cramming ahead it appears that the bill will be left on the table. No similar bills have been introduced in the Senate, there have been no formal hearings on this topic, and the subject isn't presently on the calendar of any Senate committees.
Richard Carter at Numis Securites reportedly said that, "This week's debate might prove irrelevant as there are so few congressional days in which the bill could be heard before elections." Morgan Stanley analysts were quoted saying that they "continue to believe that full passage into law is very unlikely."
However, the bill is still a shot across the bow of the online gaming industry, which generates nearly $12 billion in annual revenue. Even if this bill doesn't advance now it has taken a large and threatening step towards becoming the Law of the Land, which is a realistic possibility.
We are at the crossroads. You can either sit on the sidelines complaining about what may happen or you can get in the fight and make some moves to ensure Internet freedom. Here are four simple, quick ways to contribute to The Cause:
1. E-mail your Senator.
Take five minutes away from your normal everyday activities and shoot an e-mail to your Senator. Remember, those elected officials work for you. They have dozens of aids that actually DO read what you write. Click this link and you can contact your state's representatives in seconds:
2. Join the Poker Player's Alliance.
It doesn't matter if you play poker or not. These guys are doing the heavy lifting when it comes to lobbying on Capitol Hill and need our support. Think of it like you're joining the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars. You want to be on the same side as Chewbacca and Yoda, don't you?
3. Contact your local editor.
Make your voice heard through the megaphone of local media. If we don't shout against this bill the media will portray it as a positive thing. The Poker Player's Alliance (you know, that group you just joined) has compiled a list of local outlets. One brief e-mail can be circulated very quickly:
Not to go all P. Diddy "Vote or DIE!" on you, but even if you're not into politics you now have a great reason to get to the polls this fall. The government is trying to make you a criminal because you drop $50 on your alma mater in college football! That and gas is now $3 a gallon. Go here to register:
Get off the couch and stand up for yourself and for Players everywhere. If you don't no one else will.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.