Prohibition and Online Bingo

How many of you remember the famous movie Casablanca? There is a scene in which Louis (the police chief) has just told Rick (Humphrey Bogart that he is shutting down his cafe. When Rick inquires why, the police chief, as he is being handed gambling winnings from the cafe’s cashier, says I am shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on here. Hypocrisy right? But that’s the same kind of logic used in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006.

A brief inquiry into the history of this bill and the means by which it was passed reveals the hypocrisy of so many that it is truly shocking. The bill was tacked on to the Port Security Act by Republican Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) shortly before the bill was presented in the middle of the night with no time for debate. In fact many in congress were totally unaware of this ridiculous addition to a much needed bill to ensure port safety and security.

As it turns out Senator Frist has some serious ethical problems of his own including, campaign finance law violations, and insider trading. Frist said that he was concerned about minors gambling online which would be a good point if it were true. A recent 60 Minutes episode had a minor trying to access various gaming sites without success. Another argument given was to protect public safety and morals. Given the wide variety of pornography, bomb making, hate groups, and drug manufacturing information available on the internet to users of any age the argument seems absurd.

Another argument frequently used by conservatives is that gambling possibly could support terrorism. Terrorism seems to be invoked whenever the current administration needs to find a justification for bills that would restrict or limit rights enumerated in the US constitution. To date there has not been one documented event or incident linking online gambling to terrorism or money laundering. Terrorism is a serious business but when it is used as a smokescreen to justify the current administration’s agenda the public may tend to ignore credible threats.

When gaming industry tried to reach Frist there was no response but a referral to a statement issued to a special interest religious group. Essentially Frist said that brick and mortar casinos were ok but somehow online gaming is somehow more objectionable. With new software that blocks minors from playing on online sites Mr. Frist’s arguments become moot. Essentially Mr. Frist is pandering to a tiny minority that welcomes government intrusion into their lives.

A vast majority of Americans resent government intrusion into their private lives but somehow government never seems to get the message. Most reasonable people would agree that what a person does in the privacy of their own home or how they choose to dispose of their money is their own business and those adults are fully capable of making informed decisions about the way they choose to conduct their lives.

Take the example of online bingo, a traditionally socially acceptable form of gambling. Charitable organizations and churches have been using bingo as a fundraising tool for decades. Not everyone, especially those in remote and rural areas has access to these games but still desire to play bingo. The internet is the obvious solution for these citizens and to deny them access to online bingo would essentially make them unequal merely because of their location. These players are making a choice to play from the privacy of their own homes and spending their own hard earned dollars and what government entity has the right to say they can’t?

A new bill submitted for consideration in congress by Barney Frank (D-Mass) would essentially repeal the bad piece of legislation that is the Uniform Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It would regulate and possibly tax internet gaming and the revenues generated would help several government programs. Frank is joined by Ron Paul (R-Texas) a Republican who believes that citizens are capable of making their own decisions making him one of the few to adhere to the founding principles of his party. A companion bill to Frank’s was introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) which essentially allow gaming revenues to be taxed.

Another ray of hope is a lawsuit filed by the Interactive Media Entertainment & Gaming Association against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Reserve. The lawsuit seeks to halt enforcement of the UIGEA on the grounds that it is an infringement on the rights of free speech, freedom of association, and equal protection under the law. The lawsuit has asked the court for a temporary restraining order. Unfortunately as it is, occasionally a lawsuit is the only way to void a bad piece of legislation.

Our constitution allows citizens to petition the government for redress of grievances and time and time again this has been the most effective way for citizens to make their views and feelings known to their representatives. There have been several cases in which a few letters, e mails, and phone calls have influenced the way a legislator may vote on a particular issue. Obviously bingo players and other gamers are not criminals, capable of making their own decisions, and should start to stand up for their rights. Believe it or not, contacting your respective representatives can actually have an effect. A civil, well reasoned letter, phone call, or e mail is one sure way for a legislator to know how their constituents feel about an issue or piece of legislation.

Two quotes, the first by Abraham Lincoln, and the second by the renowned author Ayn Rand are extremely applicable when discussing the topic of individual freedom;

Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.

Abraham Lincoln

The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on guilt.

Ayn Rand, (Atlas Shrugged) 1957

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