Unlawful Internet Gaming Act

Yesterday, after nearly four hours of sanctimonious, self-congratulatory debate among our elected protectors of the national morality, the House passed the “Unlawful Internet Gaming Act” by a vote of 317-93. As with any piece of legislation that deals with personal vices, the proposed law is riddled with hypocrisy, illogic, and ulterior motives.

Card Player magazine, the house organ of the poker industry, published on its Web site an analysis of the bill. Although Card Player’s revenue is largely derived from printing advertisements for the very online poker rooms and casinos the government wishes to outlaw, the reportage in this case is sound, and much of what follows is based on the magazine’s explanatory dossier.

Here are the stipulations of the “Unlawful Internet Gaming Act”:

Online gaming sites are prohibited from accepting payment from a United States financial institution. Serious sports bettors have been dealing with this issue for close to a decade. Online poker rooms, casinos, and sportsbooks are located (and licensed) offshore. The United States cannot make laws or enforce laws regarding business operating outside the United States (although it would like to try, which is is one small reason we’re still in Iraq).

Financial institutions are forbidden from delivering funds to online gaming sites. Most credit card companies won’t fund casino transactions anyway, since there’s a high risk of customer default. Third-party companies presently handle financial transactions originating the U.S. and concluding in places like Costa Rica, Antigua, and Australia.

The amended 1961 Wire Act modernizes its language by including the Internet and prohibiting games “predominantly subject to chance.” Anyone who makes a living betting on sports, playing blackjack, or consistently beating poker takes profound umbrage at the notion that he is winning solely because of chance. Ask Johnny Chan, who won back-to-back World Series of Poker championships, what the odds are of achieving such a feat at random. Professional gamblers are highly skilled traders, and unlike, say, institutional stock market gamblers, they play their game with their own money.

A burden is placed upon Internet service providers and other technology providers to block access to online gambling sites when requested to do so by a law enforcement agency. Welcome to 1984, a couple of decades later. What’s next? No porn? No pro-Iran sites? Nothing in Arabic?

The bill directs the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to issue regulations outlining policies and procedures that could be used by financial institutions to identify and block gambling-related transactions that are transmitted through their payment systems. If the bill ever becomes law, these entities have 270 days to write such procedures. As they say after you hand over your money in the church bingo game: Good luck.

The bill contains loopholes for such things as lotteries, horse racing, and the stock market. This is the problem with attempting to legislate morality: everyone has a different idea of what’s Good and what’s Evil. I myself believe state lotteries are Evil. They tax the poorest members of society at close to a 50% margin, whereas the average blackjack game is closer to a 1% rate. Yet many upstanding Christian legislators hail from state’s that promote gambling on the lottery — and land-based casinos, and stock markets. Prohibiting certain forms of gambling while allowing others raises the question: What’s the real motive of this bill? Hint: Although many indignant lawmakers say that online gaming is destroying the moral fiber of society, this bill allows individual states to host an online gaming site for its citizens.

Here’s the truth: This bill is intended to be part of an “American Values Agenda,” which consists of 10 unrelated pieces of legislation, including a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, tax cuts, a flag burning law, and extensive restrictions on stem-cell research. Deflecting the citizenry’s attention from economic malaise and a criminally conceived and executed invasion of Iraq is the only way the Republican majority can hold onto power in the next election cycle. Remember swift boats and gay marriage? Those were the burning issues of our last presidential contest, not George W. Bush’s obvious incompetence. By championing “American Values” — as if gambling is somehow un-American — our lawmakers hope to bamboozle the same ill-informed voters who installed this administration in the first place. It’s a losing bet.

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