Why Republicans Should Favor Legalized Internet Gambling

The House Financial Services Committee recently approved the Internet Gambling, Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act introduced by Chairman Barney Frank. If passed and signed by President Obama, this bill would legalize Internet gambling and set up a framework for licensing and regulating the activity. 

While the bill had a good amount of bipartisan support, much of the voting came down along party lines–with almost all of the opposition vocalized by Republicans. Of the 26 Republican members present at the hearing, 18 voted against the bill with one, Ron Paul, who reportedly supports decriminalizing Internet gambling, voting “present.” This is an absurd scenario. If Republicans really believe in lower taxes, smaller government and free markets, they should favor legalizing online gambling. At the very least, they should oppose federal efforts to ban the activity. 

Republicans–and conservatives generally–often argue that the government should not have the right to tell private individuals what behavior they may or may not engage in in the privacy of their own home, so long as that activity doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. As a voluntary, private activity, online gambling easily meets the criteria for government to leave it alone. An Internet gambling ban would require a massive increase in the size and scope of government. 

Rep. Spencer Bachus, the chief proponent of a ban on Internet gambling, has signed ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which enjoins signatories to oppose any and all tax increases. Bachus has declared that “high taxes stifle economic growth, burdening families and job-creating businesses.” Yet, he pontificates about the social ills that legalized net gambling would herald, without consideration for the millions of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue that it would likely bring to the U.S. And then there is the additional spending: American government and businesses would need to spend millions of dollars trying to stop or prosecute individuals willingly gambling online.

Many of these Republicans who want to ban Internet gambling are the same ones who decry the Democrats’ policies for pushing America toward socialism. Yet, when it comes to activities they don’t like, they make the argument that government must intervene in private economic activities and personal lives for the sake of the “public good.” Rep. Bachus, for example, says he wants to ban gambling because of the fear that adults can “click the mouse and lose their house.” Seeking to protect adults from their own decisions is paternalism of the worst kind. 

Moreover, Bachus doesn’t seem as concerned about financial risk in other types of activities in which he himself engages. In 2007 he made numerous short-term trades on the stock market, betting that the market would drop, earning about $160,000 off the wager. According to his 2007 congressional financial disclosure, on Dec. 10 of that year Bachus earned $15,000 from an investment he’d held for only two weeks. 

Many Republicans are social conservatives, but private convictions are no reason to abandon the conservative ideals of limited government, individual rights and personal responsibility in the public sphere. If Republicans hope to become and remain a majority party, they need to regain the respect of all Americans. The best way to do this is by defending the rights of all American citizens, not just those whose choices they approve.