While there’s a lot about our current leadership that I — and plenty of other people — are dissatisfied with, it takes a lot to make me utter the above sentence. Now that the government has decided to hit my pocketbook, I feel no shame in saying it.
In a cowardly, last-minute move on the last day of business before midterm elections, Congressional Republicans slipped a measure into an important port security bill to ban banking transactions related to internet gambling. A similar bill had already passed the House in July, but instead of getting a fair hearing in the Senate, our own Senator Bill Frist slipped the measure into a bill that was guaranteed to pass. Thanks, asshole.
Social conservatives such as Frist like to drone on about how online gambling “hurts families and children.” (groan) But in reality, Congress’ short-sighted ban has done more financial damage than online gaming ever could. The collective stock price and revenue of an entire multi-billion dollar international industry has declined by at least half, virtually overnight. Nice move for a party that prides itself as the friend of big business. Perhaps the gaming industry should have been more astute about lining the pockets of Republican legislators.
If Congress truly had legitimate concerns about online gambling, prohibition was not the way to fix it. The online gaming industry was practically begging to be regulated. Now, online poker (at least in the US) will be underground and still unregulated. Determined players will still find a way to play, despite the ban.
It’s unclear what effect this ban will actually have on internet gambling. The bill bans credit card and banking transactions for online poker rooms and casinos, but credit card companies have banned gambling transactions for years. The vast majority of US players use third-party transfer services such as NetTeller and FirePay. Unless banks place a blanket ban on all transactions from these companies, the ban will be almost fruitless.
There’s an glaring hypocrisy to the online gaming ban. The original bill carved out exceptions for online lotteries, horse betting and fantasy sports. Many states — including districts whose legislators voted for the ban — make significant revenue from local gambling operations, including state lotteries (”a tax on stupidity,” said Voltaire), casinos and racetracks. A regulated online gambling industry could have produced millions of dollars in tax revenue, but online gambling income is now, for all intents and purposes, illegal.
Not to mention that a US online gambling ban violates free trade agreements. In an as-yet-unresolved dispute with the tiny island nation of Antigua, the World Trade Organization has ruled that the US can not ban online gambling. Other nations that headquarter online gaming companies, such as the UK, will likely join in the fray in the coming months.
And finally, Congress is going against the American people on this one. Recent polls by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC showed that 85-90% of Americans support regulation of the online gaming industry.
The online gaming ban was the only major measure added to the port security bill. Measures that were rejected include:
- Billions for rail and transit security
- Lifting the cap on federal airport screeners
- Tightening security at courthouses and increased penalties for attacking a judge
I guess going after internet poker players was more important than all these frivilous measures.