Gambling as an activity for fun has been around since the dawn of human civilzation. When man first discovered fire, there were probably cavemen huddled at a distance, wagering on how long it would stay aflame. Yet, it seems that some in congress think combining this innate human desire for risk and reward with Internet technology could hearken the end of life as we know it and they’ll use any possible weapon to ban Internet gambling.
As more states increase regulated and taxed gambling activities, an online gambling draws closer to an explicit federal allowance, the anti-tax set on capitol hill are scrambling for any kind of evidence to connect online gambling with illegal activities–anything to prove that it is a threat to the public good. The latest stretch-of-the-imagination by opponents of Internet gaming (led by Representative Spencer Bauchus; R-Ala.) is a memo connecting the legalization efforts with the Abramoff scandal. If you don’t remember, back in 2006 Jack Abramoff, a prominent lobbyist in D.C. admitted to misusing funds and attempting to bribe members of congress. Sure, old Jackie boy’s firm took money from pro-gambling organizations and yes, he definitely had dubious financial dealings, but before seeing the actual memo I am still sitting here asking myself what has that got to do with the legality of online wagering? If anything, the memo simply serves as evidence that something is horribly wrong with the way our representational government has been operating if a lobbyist can buy legislators that easily.
Citing lobbying disclosure records, the GOP memo asserts that Internet gambling interests paid “Team Abramoff” nearly $5 million from 2001 to 2004, including clients such as the Interactive Gaming Council of Vancouver, which is helping to lead efforts to legalize online gambling in the United States. “While Jack himself is now imprisoned, many of his former associates continue to carry out Abramoff’s plan to legalize Internet gambling in the United States,” the GOP memo reads.
Setting aside the charges for fraud and laundering, Abramoff was just doing his job. Furthermore, lobbyists wouldn’t exist if they didn’t work–that is if representatives made principled decisions based on the defense of individual rights rather than on whim and whatever will net them them the most tax dollars. The first time a Congressman wrote up legislation to “help” one business or improve the “public good” by harming another business, leveling the playing field, or taxing one, but not the other, the lobbying industry was born. If regulators are going to pick “winners” and “losers” with their policy decisions then corporate entities have just as much right as voters to have their say in the most convincing manner possible.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) which was set to go into effect in December has effectively killed the Online gaming industry in the US, costing many millions in lost revenue, legal costs, and years in prison for people who simply offered an activity to willing consumers. Even though implementation of the regulation has been delayed until June, and legalization appears nigh, there are those in congress with who willfully disregard the fact that gambling online is a voluntary act, it does not infringe upon any individual’s rights and is a contract between the business (the online gaming platform) and the consumer (the gambler) therefore there is no need for the government to come in and deem it illegal or legal.
The arguments expressed in memos like the one connecting Internet gambling to the Abramoff scandal simply demonstrate why legislators should be restricted to protecting individual rights and nothing else. Does it protect anyone if we ban an activity that 86% of Americans have chosen to engage in? We could protect a lot of people from harming themselves if we banned chocolate–but we don’t do that because Americans have the right to make choices about their own lives (to a certain extent…for now). We have a right to our own lives, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as we see it, so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of other individuals–when our actions do impede other individuals’ ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness that is when Spencer Bachus should start thinking about “protecting” people.
The best option now is to put Internet gambling back into the regulatory gray area by reversing UIGEA and regulating the industry just as any other business–no new legislation required.