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Poker News | Gambling and the Law

Online Gambling Ban may be bad for GOP

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While online poker players are rushing to the voting booth on November 7th, conservative columnists George Will and Charles Murray are sharing the opinion that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act may backfire on the Republican Party this election.

In the October 23rd issue of Newsweek, Will likens the UIGEA passage to Prohibition, citing that it "worked so well at getting rid of gin." Will goes on to tie the passage of the UIGEA to the revenues the online prohibition will generate for state governments, citing finance as one reason the bill was able to pass without any debate or opposition.

"It is an iron law: When government uses laws, tariffs and regulations to restrict the choices of Americans, ostensibly for their own good, someone is going to make money from the paternalism. One of the big winners from the government's action against online gambling will be the state governments that are America's most relentless promoters of gambling. Forty-eight states (all but Hawaii and Utah) have some form of legalized gambling. Forty-two states have lottery monopolies. Thirty-four states rake in part of the take from casino gambling, slot machines or video poker."

Will describes Prohibition II, as he calls the gambling ban, as a combination of state money-grabbing and lip service to social conservatives. He continues that, while gambling is an addiction for some people, legislation and regulation would be far more effective methods of limiting access for problem gamblers, not to mention underage players.

Will's sentiments are echoed in the October 19 issue of the New York Times by Charles Murray, internet poker player and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Murray feels that "in the short term, this law all by itself could add a few more Democratic Congressional seats in the fall elections. We are talking about a lot of people (an estimated 23 million Americans gamble online) who are angry enough to vote on the basis of this one issue, and they blame Republicans."

He describes the majority of online poker players as "disproportionately electricians, insurance agents, police officers, mid-level managers, truck drivers, small-business owners - that is, disproportionately Republicans and Reagan Democrats." Murray also likens the UIGEA to Prohibition, or more in public memory, to some of the more onerous regulations of OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

"[A]ll employers are confronted with rules and regulations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that they regard with contempt - not because they cut into profits, but because they are, simply, stupid. They impede employers yet provide no collateral social benefit. And so employers treat the stupid regulations as obstructions to be fudged or ignored. When they have to comply, they do not see compliance as the right thing to do, but as placating an agency that will hurt them otherwise."

Murray also considers the difficulty in enforcing the law to be a major impetus for people to break it. He cites the continuing availability of online poker as sites (such as FullTilt Poker, TonyG. Poker and PokerStars) as yet another reason the law is faulty, and contributes to an eroding in the public faith in law, and by extension, the government that passed it.

No small surprise that Poker Player's Alliance President Michael Bolcerek agrees with Murray and Will's take on the issue. Bolcerek said he has been getting a continuous flow of e-mails from Republicans "who say they're going to vote straight Democrat."

He characterizes the bill as a move to curry favor with the religious right at the expense of the mainstream Republicans who favor less government restriction on personal freedoms. "We believe it was a miscalculation by the Republican Party to assume [poker players] won't go to the polls and vote on this issue," Bolcerek said in an interview.

The last-minute addition of the UIGEA to an important port security act has been construed as some as simply lip service to religious conservatives, who saw core issues such as a gay marriage ban and a ban on flag burning fail to pass during this Congress. Some Christian conservatives have characterized the move as too little, too late. The failure of these measures, as well as recent ethical scandals in Congress are lending to an increasing voter malaise that may well couple with outrage at the UIGEA to overturn several key Congressional seats in two weeks.

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