Will the lame duck session of the Congress, in between votes spending a trillion dollars of our money, actually strike at least a small blow for freedom, and loosen the restrictions it placed on internet gambling back in 2006? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing a bill that would make at least certain types of online gambling legal in the United States. He’d better hurry.
In 2006 before losing their majorities in the Congress, Republicans pushed passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UNIGEA). Another self-styled conservative – President George W. Bush — exhibited little hesitancy in signing the legislation into law; another tip of the hat to government power and reduced individual liberty.
The 2006 law barred financial institutions from processing transactions for online gambling websites; effectively outlawing internet gambling in the United States. As Radley Balko wrote at the time, Republicans claimed the ban was needed to rid the Congress of the memory of Jack Abramoff, and to prevent parents from spending their children’s college savings on gambling.
Not much has changed in the past four years. Even though almost every Republican candidate this year ran on a platform to reduce the scope, size and power of government by returning to constitutional principles, already the GOP is resorting to the same nanny-state rhetoric employed to pass the ban four years ago.
A group of House Republicans recently sent a letter to Sen. Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to “not take advantage of the young, the weak and the vulnerable in the name of new revenues to cover more government spending,” by legalizing online-gambling.
There is little evidence to support the concerns expressed by the federal nannies opposing internet gambling. The number of “problem gamblers” has remained relatively low over the last few decades, despite the prevalence and availability of online-gaming primarily overseas.
A study conducted last year by the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions, for example, shows that the availability of online-gambling did not lead to a rise in gambling addictions. In fact, people gambling on the web are likely to exhibit personal responsibility in their gaming.
With that said, the bill offered by the Majority Leader is hardly perfect. The language would permit only existing gaming businesses to operate online-gambling websites in the first two years after bill becomes law. Still, even a partial legalization of online-gambling would provide much needed revenues and create jobs – the latter being an issue Republicans were able to capitalize on in the most recent election.
Even more important that viewing internet gambling as a revenue enhancer, is the fact that it is a perfect example of individual freedom and responsibility. Yet, even before they take office as the once-again majority party in the House, many Republicans are poised to make some of the same mistakes that forced them into the political wilderness for the past four years.
-by Bob Barr, The Barr Code