Echoes of Prohibition with the UIGEA

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How many people today remember prohibition? My grandfather was sheriff of the county in Ohio I grew up in during prohibition and I had a great uncle who was a bootlegger. Both realized the basic stupidity of the law and even though they were on opposing sides of the law they got along just fine. Both agreed the law was ridiculous and enforcement futile. That is essentially the same situation we face now with online gambling.

The similarities are obvious, both are based on the premise that the government knows what is good for us and has the right to intrude into our private lives. In both cases enforcement is a futile and the law creates more problems than the original issue. Both laws reflect the will of a very tiny minority who feel they have the right to tell their fellow citizens how to conduct their private affairs.

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The arguments used to justify the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act border on the ridiculous and reek of hypocrisy. In a Wall Street Journal interview with Jim Leach (R-Iowa) one of the chief supporters of the ban, we can see the spurious reasoning that gambling opponents use.

  • The old "it hurts the family" argument. If Mr. Leach was really concerned about families, then why does he consistently vote against things such as family leave, raising the minimum wage, and any meaningful reform of our health care system? A quick inquiry into the voting records of most gambling opponents reveals an appalling lack of concern for issues vital to families and their economic health. One need go no further than the current administration's opposition to providing health insurance to low income children to see just what "family values" they have.
  • Problem gambling can lead to various social ills, crime. What most online gambling opponents don’t tell you is that most sites have programs in place that recognize compulsive betting patterns and reputable websites will ban such gamblers. All transactions are logged individually, and are available for scrutiny. Remember, we are talking about companies that are publicly traded, and they cannot afford adverse publicity and certainly it is not in their interest to conduct business in an improper or illegal way.
  • Accusations of money laundering and financing terrorism. To date there have been no documented incidents of either and publicly traded companies do not behave in this manner. Quite simply, it is not in their self interest to behave illegally.
  • This law could have unintended consequences. Making something illegal does not make it go away. In fact it opens the door for unethical entities to take the place of well regulated, publicly traded companies.
  • The ban somehow exempts horseracing. Why? Again, follow the money. The horseracing has donated prodigiously to various candidates and even members of the religious right (Pat Robertson) own race horses or participate in the sport. News reports brought out the fact that several vocal opponents of gambling were involved with Jack Abramoff. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition and James Dobson of Focus on the Family are two of the more egregious examples. State lotteries are also exempt. Why, for example, can an individual use a credit card to play the lottery or bet on horses, but not on, let’s say online bingo?
  • Protecting public morals. The fact is a majority citizens do not see gambling as immoral or even a problem, especially online bingo games. When one looks at the variety of sites promoting pornography, sites with instructions for manufacturing illegal drugs, and the many sites run by various hate groups, the argument of morality rings hollow. The fact is, politicians are pandering to the wishes of a tiny minority on this issue.
  • The law places the entire burden of compliance on financial institutions. Banks are not law enforcement agencies and this law places another burden on an industry that is already over regulated. More regulation could result in higher service fees.

What it all comes down to is the right of a citizen to engage in consensual behavior that harms no one in the privacy on one's own home. Scare tactics and hollow rhetoric aside, we are still citizens of a free republic, and this unwarranted intrusion into our private lives is just as ridiculous and unenforceable as prohibition was in the 1920s. The same mentality that gave us prohibition is still with us but thankfully it’s losing ground swiftly.

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