Earlier this month, I posted about a disturbing new law in Washington State that would impose up to a five-year prison term for people who gamble online. The law's supporters said not to worry: no one would be breaking into homes to arrest individual gamblers (though even before the law took effect, there was some evidence to the contrary). Now we find out that not only are Washington State authorities willing to go after individual gamblers, they're using the law to go after people who merely write about gambling. A Seattle Times columnist writes:
The first casualty in the state's war on Internet gambling is a local Web site where nobody was actually doing any gambling.
What a Bellingham man did on his site was write about online gambling. He reviewed Internet casinos. He had links to them, and ran ads by them. He fancied himself a guide to an uncharted frontier, even compiling a list of "rogue casinos" that had bilked gamblers.
All that, says the state — the ads, the linking, even the discussing — violates a new state law barring online wagering or using the Internet to transmit "gambling information."
"It's what the feds would call 'aiding and abetting,' " says the director of the state's gambling commission, Rick Day. "Telling people how to gamble online, where to do it, giving a link to it — that's all obviously enabling something that is illegal."
Uh-oh. This is starting to get a little creepy.
I'll say. It gets worse. The state's puritans anti-gambling cops also lashed out at the Seattle Times itself:
Gambling officials told me The Seattle Times may be afoul of the law because we print a poker how-to column, "Card Shark," by gambler Daniel Negreanu. He sometimes tells readers to hone their skills at online casinos. And at the end of each column is a Web address, fullcontactpoker.com, where readers can comment.
If you type in that address, you whiz off to Negreanu's digital casino based in the Antilles.
It's a tangled Web, isn't it? The state says we'd best do our part to untangle it.
"My suggestion to you is to remove from your paper any advice about online gambling and any links to illegal sites," Day said.
So even this column could be illegal?
Unfortunately, columnist Danny Westneat closes the piece by arguing that the state's law against online gambling is "legitimate;" it's only the act of extending it to people who write about gambling, he asserts, that crosses the line. But as we've seen with the drug war, once you've given the state the power to enforce consensual crimes that take no victims, it's only a matter of time before government makes the case that it can't enforce those laws unless it's given the power to encroach on other civil liberties.