Late Friday night, the U.S. Senate passed a ban on Internet gambling. The ban now awaits President Bush’s signature.
Sen. Bill Frist attached the ban to the port security bill at the last minute on Friday, conveniently allowing the ban to go forward without any debate. That also means any senator who rightly believes that online poker is none of the government’s business would also have to vote against a national security bill to vote against the ban – making that senator a ripe target for charges of being soft on terrorism.
The major gaming sites – that is, the legitimate companies regulated by British law and traded on the London Stock Exchange – announced over the weekend that they’ll cease offering service to U.S. customers the moment President Bush signs the bill. What does that mean? Well, it means the shady, fly-by-night sites that aren’t regulated or publicly traded will now thrive with U.S. customers. These gray- and black-market sites are more prone to fraud, more likely to be involved in organized crime, and don’t include the child-protection measures the major sites have implemented.
For all the talk from Sen. Frist, Sen. Kyl, and Rep. Goodlatte about the dangers of this “unregulated” industry, the bill they’ve just passed will actually put the well-regulated gambling sites out of reach of U.S. customers. The end result? Online poker and other gaming sites will soon be even less regulated, more likely to attract children, and more likely to defraud U.S. consumers than ever before. Meanwhile, one of the most addictive forms of gambling – state lotteries – will soon make an en masse move online, thanks to an exemption in the bill that effectively creates an online monopoly for them.
In short, in an intrusive, big government effort to protect Americans from themselves, Congress has passed a futile, hypocritical, counter-productive, protectionist piece of legislation that will make it more difficult for millions of Americans to engage in an activity most participate in responsibly and moderately. For those people, the bill will probably work. But it’ll do little to prevent problem gambling, children’s access to gaming sites, or online fraud.
One can’t help but think that for Frist, none of that matters so long as the bill helps Republicans keep control of the Senate come November.