EDITORIAL: The Poker Lobby

4/22/09 - Las Vegas Review-Journal - View Source

An example of why special interests must pay off Washington
At the end of 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The law aims to curb online gambling by prohibiting financial institutions from accepting payments from credit cards, checks or electronic fund transfers to settle online wagers.

The attempt to block American bettors from fueling the estimated $16 billion international online gambling industry didn't appear out of thin air. The Christian Coalition lobbied for the ban. So too did numerous college and professional sports leagues, expressing concern that the money involved could lead gamblers to attempt to bribe their players.

The NCAA and professional baseball, basketball and hockey all favored the online betting ban, though the NFL led the effort.

Of course, just as the deployment first of muzzle-loaders and then of breechloaders and finally of machine guns left opponents with no choice but to field similar weapons in order to "stay competitive," so the Poker Players Alliance -- which opposes the ban -- has now figured out how the game is played in Washington.

The alliance, chaired by former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato R-N.Y., says it plans to spend $3 million lobbying this session of Congress in an attempt to overturn the Internet gambling ban, or at least to carve out an exemption that would legalize and regulate online poker.

"How dare you come into my house and tell me what I can and can't do on the Internet?" asks Mr. D'Amato. "What about the elderly, who have no ability to travel? You're going to say to them that a form of entertainment that they have -- they should be precluded from because Big Brother says no?"

Well, you can bet (sorry) the NFL isn't taking that lying down. Last year the league hired a full-time lobbyist and started a political action committee to make campaign donations to keep the ban in place.

So who are the bad guys, here? The sports leagues and other opponents of online gambling, who are proceeding to raise campaign contributions and buy meals for congressmen? Or the poker players and online casino operators, aiming to get rich off the weakness of others?

And the answer is: Congress itself.

It's Congress that starts the gift-giving potlatch, making it clear that those who hope to win their case on the strength of logical argument alone are being hopelessly naive, as the other side ponies up the millions and walks away with the "win."

Perhaps members of Congress can indeed claim some authority in the Constitution's commerce clause to regulate online poker play -- particularly when the communications cross state lines.

But this is a classic case of a "feel-good" law that's virtually unenforceable in the real world. Of course, why should members of Congress care, as they continue to smile and rake in the loot from both sides?

Protecting Children
Compulsive Gambling Safeguards
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