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Michael Hiltzik: The absurd ban on Internet gambling

October 18, 2009 |  7:09 pm

One way to gauge the sincerity of lawmakers is by their willingness to let their bills be debated out in the open. The federal ban on Internet gambling flunks that test.

It was enacted in 2006 when Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who thought he'd be running for President, made common cause with a gang of Congressional blue noses and added it to a bill on port security. The gambling measure wasn't afforded a minute's debate in the Senate, but no one could vote against the ban without voting to open our ports to terrorists, so there you have it--a measure that fails to achieve its purposes politically, fiscally, or moralistically.

Among its flaws, as my Monday column observes, is the lack of any definition of "gambling," which you would expect to be Job One. It exempts betting on horses, for instance, but includes poker. This drives poker players nuts, because they think of their pastime as an expression of psychological warfare and high-level game theory. There's much to be said for their position, but one doesn't have to share it to decry the ban. The column starts below. 

No issue brings out America’s talent for self-deception like gambling.

To persuade ourselves that we can keep this particular sin under control, we sequestered casinos in isolated places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City reachable only by superhighways, and isolated them on riverboats where not a single card could be dealt or slot lever pulled until the vessel left the dock.
In Mississippi, the law used to say you couldn’t have a casino unless it floated on water. After Hurricane Katrina forcibly relocated a few of these sin barges onto land the legislature, reading the disaster as a sign from God, revised the law to let them stay put. (The riverboat states, similarly, eventually allowed their floating casinos to remain tied up dockside.)

Which brings us to Internet gambling.

Read the whole column

--Michael Hiltzik