Bookmark and Share Back to News

Support for Big Government a Bad Bet for the GOP

1/04/10 - Big Government - View Source

By Rich Muny

Following a positive reception at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the Poker Players Alliance, a million-member strong poker advocacy group, has announced plans to return to CPAC this year.  This announcement mirrors and complements the ongoing ascendancy of limited government conservatism within the conservative movement, and it bodes well for the future of conservatism.

From the late 1990s until 2006, the conservative movement was increasingly influenced by some who wished to expand the power of the then-GOP-controlled federal government. 
These big government “conservatives” wanted to use the power of the federal government to address various social issues, including even stopping Americans from playing online poker.  Fortunately, rank-and-file conservatives have been working overtime since the 2006 and 2008 election losses to restore conservatism’s true soul — liberty, free markets, and less regulation — and this is leading to a resurgence in the movement.

The online poker issue is important to conservatives.  For one, those who oppose online poker rights keep Republicans off-message.  After all, it is hard to make an argument that we need the government to protect us from ourselves, then subsequently argue that Americans ought to be trusted with credit cards, mortgages, guns, cigarettes, snack food, soft drinks, and other freedoms that are under attack from the left.  In fact, many leading Republicans now publicly oppose efforts to prohibit online poker, including former Senator and current Poker Players Alliance Chairman Alphonse D’Amato (R-NY), former House Majority Leader and current FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey (article), Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) (video), George Will (article #1, article #2), Walter Williams (article), Grover Norquist (letter to Congress), and Jacob Sullum (article #1, article #2, article #3).  Additionally, many Republican lawmakers have cosponsored legislation to license online poker in the U.S. and have written to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to ask him to delay enactment of regulations implementing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 while Congress considers the licensing bills (a request Geithner granted last month).

Additionally, the 2006 anti-gaming law — the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act — championed by big government “conservatives” has been a complete failure.  As the legal status of online poker and gaming is unclear (the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court’s landmark 2002 ruling re In MasterCard affirmed that the Wire Act pertains only to sports betting, but the Justice Department has not yet accepted this ruling), this law has had unintended consequences — as so many federal laws do.  Rather than limiting online poker, this law only serves to keep U.S.-owned sites out of a still-growing American market where online poker is freely and readily available in all fifty states.  In effect, it is reverse protectionism.  It also keeps Congress from taxing online poker sites, mandating safeguards against underage participation, mandating protections for those with excessive gaming habits, and providing consumer protections for the millions of Americans who play Internet poker every day.
Another reason this is important to conservatives is that there are millions of poker rights supporters in the U.S.  They are upset and they are voting.  In fact, the Poker Players Alliance, formed shortly before the 2006 legislation was passed, quickly swelled to over one million members.

Unfortunately, there are still some Republican lawmakers who believe Congress ought to enact a prohibition against online poker.  House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Spencer Bachus (R-AL) typifies the problems associated with having a big government mindset regarding social issues.  Bachus spends much of his time focused on efforts to ban online poker.  Unfortunately, Bachus’ lack of leadership has left important issues before his committee with insufficient conservative input, including bank bailouts, banking regulation, mortgage reform, and credit card regulation.  In fact, in late 2008 he was almost removed as Ranking Member.  It is so bad that Rep. Roy Blunt, then Minority Whip, had to replace Bachus at the bank bailout negotiating table in 2008.  However, even if Bachus were more focused on the non-gaming issues before his committee, he would be hard-pressed to argue against more government regulations when he is keeping himself busy using the exact same arguments in favor of a federal online poker prohibition.

Adding insult to injury, he has not even been particularly effective in his quest to ban online poker.  For example, at the December 3rd House Financial Services Committee online poker hearing, Bachus’ key witness was the leader of the California Morongo Indian tribe who, when asked by the committee chair, admitted that the tribe hopes to offer online poker throughout the state of California!

Bachus also frequently exaggerates and outright misrepresents studies on online gaming, including an infamous and egregious instance where he falsely claimed that a McGill University study found that one-third of college students who had participated in online gaming attempted suicide.  Upon learning of this misrepresentation, Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky, head of the McGill research team, sent letters to Congress blasting the statement as unfounded and without any merit whatsoever.  Derevensky further stated that he believes online gaming ought to be licensed and regulated, not prohibited.

Too bad Bachus did not read the British Gambling Prevalence Survey of 2007.  Had he checked that out, he would have seen on page ten that the UK, a nation with ample licensed online and “bricks and mortar” gaming, has a problem gaming rate of just 0.6%.  That rate was unchanged from 1999.  Perhaps then he would realize that the focus ought to be on that small group, rather than on taking rights from the 99.4% of Americans who either responsibly enjoy poker or who choose not to participate.  That is, of course, unless his real aim is to use big government to regulate behavior.

We conservatives need all the votes we can get.  It makes no sense to turn away millions of poker supporters.  Conservatives who do not necessarily care one way or another about online poker may wish to ask themselves how losing these voters impacts issues dear to them.  For example, as an NRA Life Member I know I felt that my Second Amendment rights were safer in conservative hands than they are now.

Let’s continue to welcome poker advocates, Internet freedom supporters, and everyone else who wants less government and more individual liberty, and let’s leave prohibitions back in the Progressive Era where they belong.  If we do this, we conservatives may find ourselves with a winning hand on Election Day 2010.

Protecting Children
Compulsive Gambling Safeguards
Secure Financial Transactions
New Government Revenues
Regulated and Licensed Environment
International Ramifications
Sign Up for Updates
Contact Your Member of Congress
Tell A Friend
Join Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Watch Us On YouTube
Add Us To Your Web Site