Good News, Bad News for Gamblers’ Freedom

President Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has waged a hostile war against online gamblers including federal arrests and asset seizures of major Internet poker sites. Nonetheless, he has opened up a small opening for states to license their own gambling sites, and states are beginning to take advantage. New Jersey and Nevada — already traditional gambling states –have rushed to legalize Internet bets within state borders. The Associated Press reports:

Rushing to take advantage of a U.S. Justice Department ruling that in-state Internet gambling does not violate federal law, a New Jersey lawmaker is pushing for his colleagues to pass a bill legalizing online gambling within the state’s borders. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak told The Associated Press on Monday he’ll try to get a bill through the Legislature and on Gov. Chris Christie’s desk by next week. The goal is to make New Jersey the national leader in online gambling, now that the federal government says in-state bets do not violate the law.

Other states are looking into it as well. ABC News reports:

Washington D.C. and Nevada are already poised to start online gambling, mostly poker. Kentucky’s Gov. Steve Beshear is pushing for expanded gambling in his state. And in Illinois, there are hopes that online tickets will increase sales for the lottery.

ABC News also reports about good news for gambling freedom in other states.

Florida lawmakers are set to consider a measure to bring three casino resorts to the southern part of the state. In New York, the governor is pushing for the legalization of casino gambling.

CBS News’s story contains an interesting counter-opinion:

Recreational player Mark Gorman of Austin, Texas, said he’s skeptical, because different DOJ officials under a future president could change their opinion, forcing lawmakers to start over again.”I wasn’t terribly excited that this would change the landscape,” Gorman said.

Also, the excitement over the push for legal gambling in New Jersey should be weighed against the possibility of a veto from Governor Christie who vetoed a similar bill last year before the DOJ clarified its position. Christie’s reason for vetoing the bill was less about potential federal action, and more about protecting the New Jersey casino industry. Christie said at the time:

Casino gaming is a vital component of the State’s economy and one of our most important industries, generating billions in revenues and providing tens of thousands of jobs…. However, I do not believe that Internet gambling as contemplated in S-490 is a viable option for continuing the progress that we have made so far in reversing the fortunes of the casino industry in New Jersey.

The federal government has made a mess of online gambling in the United States, but don’t expect them to clean it up in 2012. CBS reports:

[N]ew federal laws are a longshot in 2012, while states could choose to enter into compacts with other states to pool players, making games more lucrative.

While state action is appropriate to increase the scope of Americans’ economic freedoms, the federal government needs to end their national prohibition on Internet betting and the regulatory uncertainty that currently plagues the industry.