In an attempt to save face, Texas Governor Rick Perry is trying to justify his support for a federal online gambling ban by claiming that it’s the only way to protect e-commerce from government regulation. Criticism against Perry and other republicans has centered on the fact that the bill he supports was authored by the lobbyist of casino magnate and prominent GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.
Additionally, the igambling ban would reverse legalization and regulation laws passed by states. Gov. Perry, a supposed defender of federalism, may have faced some embarrassment after people (like me) started to point out how his asking the feds to prohibit states from enacting legislation while also claiming to support federalism makes him a hypocrite. This op-ed hasn’t change my opinion.
In an opinion article published at the National Review Online, Gov. Perry states,
Internet-gambling proponents are seeking to create, for the first time, formal government oversight and enforcement of a specified class of Internet content. The expansion of Internet gambling will result in the expansion of government and raise more questions about the government presence in our daily lives.
Later he declares that “[t]he proponents of Internet gambling are at the edge of a slippery slope, the bottom of which is a Federal Department of Internet Regulation with broad and intrusive powers.”
I actually agree with Gov. Perry that a new federal regulatory agency to regulate the Internet or online gambling is a bad idea. However, he is committing a classic logical fallacy by creating a false dichotomy. That is, he presents only two options when it comes to online gambling: ban it and protect online commerce or legalize it, creating an increase in regulation.
A ban—for it to be an actual ban—will certainly require increased enforcement. How many new state and federal employees will we need to track online activity, arrest, and prosecute those who violate a prohibition against online gambling? Perry also conflates the state and federal efforts to legalize online gambling, saying “[a]t both the state and the federal levels, Internet-gambling proponents are aggressively lobbying to establish the most far-reaching government regulations of the Internet. One bill calls for the creation of an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Department of the Treasury and would ’empower the federal government for overall oversight.’ Another calls for an Office of Internet Poker Oversight.”
It’s true that the *federal proposals* would create new federal agencies, but the state initiatives to legalize online gambling–that is, the only proposals actually passing, would not increase the size of the federal government. These state laws are what Perry is asking Congress to overturn and prohibit.
Furthermore, if Perry is a true defender of commerce and really concerned for our freedom from government intrusion, why isn’t he suggesting decriminalization of online gambling? Like Gov. Perry said “[t]he Founding Fathers believed, as I do, in limiting federal powers, but they also recognized that we must take care to avoid barriers to commerce between the states for our state and national economies to flourish.” If so, then we ought to removing any federal law that may pertain to online gambling, not creating new ones.
As I have argued in the past, if legalized online gambling could be done without creating any new state or federal entity; it could be treated like any other kind of commerce. Most states already have laws covering and oversight of gambling (since all but one have some form of it), federal laws for reporting income, and some states, like Texas have laws regarding online sales taxes.
Which brings me to another point: Gov. Perry is wrong when he insists that states haven’t regulated online activity in the past. Just look at his home state which regulates online insurers, Internet wine sales, eBay sellers, virtual schools, and until recently (until a district court overturned the laws) brewery websites—which were prevented from advertising where their products were sold. And according to a Chicago Tribune report, Mr. Perry signed a bill regulating online dating sites.
Perry claims that allowing states to regulate online gambling it will create a patchwork of online regulation and “put up digital roadblocks at every state border, putting a huge burden on commerce.” So, his solution is to just put up one big national road block. Nice try, Gov. Perry, but I’m not buying it. Far from protecting personal or Internet freedom, banning online gambling will make us less free and far less safe.
Image via Siliconbeat.com