If the number of pop-up ads I get from PartyPoker.com is any indication, the war on Internet gambling is at least as much of an unmitigated failure as the war on drugs, the last century’s war on alcohol and the perpetual Cold War against this. It seems a technicality may lead the Obama administration to lay down its arms. This is yet another example of how far the U.S. legal system has to go before the Internet is fully integrated into its thinking.
The Wire Act of 1961 forbade wagering through interstate and international telecommunications. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel now says that only applies to a “sporting event or contest,” the inclusion of poker on sports television notwithstanding. (Seriously, what’s that? Isn’t there a channel for non-athletic competitions? Cards by night, this by day?) It no longer applies to states’ use of the Internet to sell lottery tickets to adults; this, according to experts, could open the door to the legalization of all online gambling.
This decision was spurred when Illinois and New York proposed using out-of-state online transaction processors to sell tickets for their state lotteries. Were this not to apply to private online gaming companies, it would not only look hypocritical, but monopolistic. Why should the state get all the sales from Internet gambling? It’s good enough for them, so why not the annoying poker sites? Besides, the ensuing tax revenue would amount in the billions, and since any physical health effects of gambling addiction are rare, the offsets would be much less.
In any event, I don’t see why online gambling (or any type, for that matter) should be illegal. I don’t approve of it in the least; in my lifetime I have played one game of casino blackjack, at a mock casino at my high school graduation party, and pulled a slot machine lever exactly once. You can’t count on any good coming of it. But it is not the responsibility of any state to save citizens from themselves, just other people. If they can’t play poker online, they’ll find another way to satisfy their urge to gamble. So, you might as well make some money off it. It’s easier than raising tax rates.