EDITORIAL: 'Bizarre' Legislation
4/3/08 - Las Vegas Review-Journal - View Source
It would be a stiff competition indeed to determine the worst piece of legislation to emerge from Congress over the past decade, but the Internet gambling ban would likely make the short list of finalists.
Passed in 2006 as a rider to an unrelated port security bill, the ban was designed to help congressional moralists win votes back home. In fact, though, it's a feel-good mish-mash of special interest legislation -- and a perfect example of the damage Congress can do when members have no real-world clue about the ramifications of their actions.
While purporting to be an anti-gambling bill, the legislation exempted lotteries and horse racing as a sop to those interests. And instead of actually banning Internet gambling, it put the burden on banks and other financial institutions to enforce the measure by policing credit card and other transactions.
It "makes financial institutions the police, prosecutors, and judges in place of real law enforcement officers," Wayne Abernathy of the American Bankers Association told a House Financial Services subcommittee on Wednesday.
To this day, nobody knows what specific online activities are prohibited because it isn't spelled out in the law.
Instead, the ban has led to a more complicated regulatory structure involving banks and their customers at a cost of millions; triggered international trade disputes; made criminals out of otherwise law-abiding adults; and led to the idiotic spectacle of the feds arresting the foreign owner of a legal online betting service when he landed at a U.S. airport.
To top it off, even some regulators now criticize the legislation as too complicated and virtually unenforceable.
"I think it is very difficult without having more of a bright line about what is intended to be unlawful Internet gambling," Louise Roseman, head of the Federal Reserve's bank operations division, told the House hearing. "The challenge we have is interpreting something, particularly federal laws, that Congress themselves isn't sure what they mean."
That prompted Rep. Barney Frank, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, to state the obvious. "A rather bizarre piece of legislation," he said.
In the movie "Office Space," frustrated corporate drones fantasize about taking a baseball bat to the office computer equipment that never seems to operate properly. That's precisely what Congress should do to the Internet gambling ban.