Online gambling increases despite “ban”

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank. But there is at least one reason to throw him a scrap of praise: He took a principled stand opposing attempts to ban internet gambling and he’s apparently sticking with it. Sure, he doesn’t apply the same principles consistently and throughout his policy decisions, but when it comes to gambling on the internet he’s the only lawmaker calling it like it is.

After the shamefully vague Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) passed in the late night hours (buried in the unrelated Port Safety Act) before congress recessed, Frank immediately came out against it, “The fundamental point is this,” Frank declared in statement on his website, “If an adult in this country, with his or her own money, wants to engage in an activity that harms no one, how dare we prohibit it because it doesn’t add to the GDP or it has no macroeconomic benefit.”

Since its passage, an ever increasing number of academics, politicians, and industry members have come out against UIGEA. The arguments of those opposing UIGEA have varied, but a popular and effective argument in light of the economic crisis is the potential for tax revenue that congress might draw from the lucrative online gaming industry. Barney Frank who will reintroduce a measure to repeal UIGEA, legalize and tax internet gaming as any other legitimate business, again had principled words for his fellow lawmakers using tax revenue as an excuse.

“Has it become the role of this Congress to prohibit any activity that an adult wants to engage in voluntarily if it doesn’t add to the GDP or make us more competitive?” Frank stated. Later he asserted that UIGEA was unlikely to prevent online gambling, certainly not of those who abuse it. “Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol; it doesn’t work for gambling.”

Frank, and others asserting the ineffectiveness of UIGEA seem to have be right.  Focus on the Family, the conservative organization that had been a staunch supporter of UIGEA was forced to admit that it isn’t tempering gambling at all and that, in fact, gambling on the internet has increased since its passage.

The principle is simple, if an activity is legal in some cases and people want to do it, the government can try to stop them but all it will do is create a black market where there aren’t any consumer protections. Like the prohibition of alcohol before it, consumer bans just don’t work. Like Frankie said, if American adults want to gamble in the privacy of their home, with their own funds, nobody (especially not Congress which is gambling with trillions in tax payer money at the moment) should have the right to stop them.