Banning online poker is a bad
By Jake Williams
October 18, 2006 | Government officials aren't always
the most informed individuals, and sometimes they say
or do things that just don't make sense.
One great example is from Ted Stevens (R-Alaska),
who heads the Senate Commerce Committee that regulates
Internet commerce. He said, "The Internet is not something
that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck.
It's a series of tubes." And later: "Internet was sent
by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and
I just got it (Tuesday). Why?"
Jon Stewart knows why. "Maybe it's because you don't
seem to know jack-shit about computers or the Internet.
But that's OK. You're just the guy in charge of regulating
Another example, one that has gone virtually unacknowledged
by mainstream America, is the recent government attack
on Internet gambling. The Unlawful Gambling Enforcement
Act, passed by the U.S. Senate Sept. 30, is Title VIIII
of the entirely unrelated Safe Port Act, which deals
with port security. According to Senator Frank Lautenberg
(D-N.J.), the gambling act was attached to the Safe
Port Act such that nobody on the Senate-House Conference
Committee saw the final language before it was passed.
The act is a fairly involved piece of legislation, but
its goal is to end online gambling in America by prohibiting
money transfers to the websites that allow it.
The act only affects poker for profit, not playing
for fun. It holds not only the gamblers responsible
for their actions, but also places liability on financial
institutions that process their deposits and withdrawals.
Without these institutions' involvement, the multibillion
dollar industry is expected to go bust. Indeed, several
online poker sites have already suspended play.
Poker websites are the primary target of this legislation
for playing a major role in this decade's poker explosion.
The Poker Players Alliance estimates that 70 million
Americans are now gaming. Prior to the Internet, playing
required either a poker night with friends or a trip
to Las Vegas, but now players can just jump online and
start playing within seconds. This convenience in playing
has helped increase volume in other areas, including
television coverage and offline play. Poker has become
the third most-watched sporting event in America (behind
auto racing and football) and participation in the World
Series of Poker mushroomed from roughly 5,000 entrants
in 2000 to 23,000 entrants just five years later.
The act's supporters believe gambling has significant
adverse effects, most dramatically Senator Bill Frist's
(R-Tenn.) suggestion that terrorists use gambling sites
to launder money, and feel Americans would be better
off without corrupting and bankrupting games of chance.
They argue poker players become deceptive and financially
irresponsible, and that the long hours spent playing
are a case of negligence toward players' families.
Opponents point out the numerous good aspects of poker,
including how poker is an important part of the nation's
economy. Professional poker players, just like other
professionals, provide for their families while paying
income tax on their earnings. Many Americans work long
hours to provide for their families, but poker players
have the unwarranted image of negligence if gambling
is what puts food on their tables. They point out that
Frist offers no proof for his terrorism claim, and find
his scare tactic reminiscent of 1950's Senator Joseph
McCarthy's communism ploy. Opponents also believe Americans
should have the freedom to seek entertainment however
they want, because America was founded on the principle
that people are sufficiently mature to make responsible
decisions. Gamblers find claims of deception ironic,
coming from the same politicians that attached a gambling
bill to the Safe Port Act.
Online gambling certainly has issues to address, but
prohibition is only one possible solution. Judy Xanthopoulos,
who holds a Ph.D. in economics and conducted a study
on Internet poker, concludes that America is missing
an opportunity to raise vast federal and state revenues.
She estimates around $3 billion could be raised if America
properly regulated the industry. That's right, $3 billion.
Considering the Congressional Budget Office announced
that the federal deficit stands at $250 billion, regulation
of online poker could pay off just over one percent
of our current fiscal deficit.
America should exploit poker's popularity. Doing so
would help fund education, welfare, and other essential
programs (like bomb-building) and is consistent with
global trends. Eighty countries regulate Internet poker,
most notably the United Kingdom, which passed legislation
in 2005. America could follow suit by either repealing
the act or amending it to allow for online gambling.
The latter is more likely because loopholes already
exist for wagering on horseracing, intrastate lotteries,
and fantasy sports.
Legislators won't repeal or amend the act unless they
feel the public disagrees with it, so get involved if
you think your freedoms are being constrained. Only
action will cause a reaction. Call or write your
congressmen or join an organization dedicated to
lobbying the issue in Washington. One such group, the
Players Alliance, already has 75,000 members.
Both these methods of involvement are consistent with
our right to petition legislators as guaranteed by the
United States Constitution. At least our government
got that bill right.