Friday, April 21, 2006


Congress Seeks To Ban Online Poker

Protecting people from themselves and restricting competition

Congress is currently considering legislation that will effectively ban Americans from playing poker online:
There are at least three bills pending in Congress that seek to ban Americans' from playing poker or other casino games online for money. It is already illegal for online casinos to operate domestically, so the multi-billion-dollar business has moved overseas. Credit card companies have also been ordered not to allow customers to use their accounts for the offshore gambling, so players have switched to online payment services that are also based overseas and pay with checks, debit cards and electronic funds transfers.

Sponsors of the legislation cite several reasons for their proposed crackdown, an idea that has been approved by both houses in Congress in the past, but not in the identical form required for sending legislation to the president. They say the lure of games that people can play at home on their computers is addictive and could be financially ruinous.
A bill sponsored by Bob Goodlatte (R, VA) would go so far as to criminalize hyperlinking to online gaming sites:
[N]ot only does it ban online gambling, it also bans linking to sites where online gambling takes place. And not only that, but the bill requires financial institutions to set up invasive (and, most say, impossible to implement) mechanisms to track every financial transaction you make. Particularly bothersome are ACH transactions, the favored method of payment at most gaming sites. ACH transactions leave a more generic paper trail than credit card transactions. For banks to get to the point where they could track these kinds of transactions would require a level of familiarity and intimacy with your buying habits that ought to make all but the most ardent police-staters skittish. One gaming industry rep describes the requirement as “know your customer on steroids.”
Via Kevin Aylward, who comments:
What's so disingenuous about the proposed legislation (bizarrely trumpeted as lobbying reform) is that all the monied domestic interested - state lotteries, casinos, Indian tribes, horse racing, etc. managed to get themselves excluded. Gambling, in one form or another, is allowed in nearly every state in the union - often sponsored by the state; yet we've driven the online gaming industry overseas. One could argue whether that is good or bad thing, but there's no arguing that the opportunity cost of the potential to tax that industry is staggering.
He's right. The blatent hypocracy on display amazes me.

Instead of imposing draconion regulations on the banking industry and criminalizing speech, Congress should legalize, regulate and tax online gaming. Though I don't think and form of gaming should be illegal, perhaps Congress could at least make a distinction between games of chance, like roulette and craps, and poker, which is a game of skill.

Via James Joyner.

(Full Disclosure: I'm a member of the Poker Players Alliance.)


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