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Prohibit internet gambling?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The odds are bad.

Individuals should be free from government interference so that they can realize their full potential, American conservatives like to say.
But the same people who cut public services are often happy to let government tell others what their moral standards should be – including the issue of whether or not they can gamble online.
In recent years a number of companies have set up operations in Central America and the Caribbean, where they take Internet bets from gamblers, many of them United States residents.
Attempts by various American lawmakers and enforcement agencies to stop this activity include legislation, which – among other things - outlaws credit card transactions used for online betting.
It may or may not be possible to impose American criminal sanctions on operations located in other countries or in cyberspace, or to get banks to interfere with their customers’ accounts.
But just the effort of trying involves a Big Brother-ish invasion of personal privacy and bank confidentiality rules, as well as the establishment of another expensive public bureaucracy that conservatives supposedly hate.
Most societies agree that some limits on freedom are necessary.
Police might wiretap a mobster’s phone, in order to prevent violent crimes.
Motorists must obey speed limits, in order to avoid serious accidents.
As far as gambling is concerned, the reality is sometimes unsavory.
But in the case of Internet betting, it isn’t clear why meddling by Washington will make the world a better place.
The idea that betting is inherently wicked is shared by few Americans, who can gamble freely in Nevada and Atlantic City, state-run off-track betting operations (including an Internet option), Native American casinos and fake Mississippi riverboats, not to mention thousands of corner stores in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., where poor people bet on lottery jackpots that offer longer odds than those of being struck by lightning.
Opponents of Internet gambling worry that minors could place bets without being detected.
But while many high school students can probably get hold of a parent’s credit card in order to put $10 on the Knicks plus five, it’s hard to see Mom or Dad letting this happen more than once.
Since it’s easier to place a bet on the Internet than in any other way, more casual gamblers might become addicts.
But gambling addicts - who can legally consume all the alcohol, tobacco and fatty foods they want - are mainly addicted to money.
If many conservatives are worried about activities that could stimulate increased gambling by money addicts, the logical place to start controlling the problem is the stock market, where far more traders risk far more money in a day - with the blessing and even encouragement of most lawmakers - than Internet casinos see in months.
Web gambling also raises concerns about the laundering of drug money via offshore banks.
But millions of individuals and companies in Latin America and the Caribbean every day deposit money in local banks, many of which lack the resources to investigate the legitimacy of each of their customers’ transactions.
Is the United States going to cut its commercial ties to the hemisphere as a result?
In any case, this is one of many aspects of Internet betting that would dealt with by regulation, if the activity were legalized, as it has been in the United Kingdom.
Conservatives claim to believe in the principle that individuals must be free from heavy-handed government.
This is another case in which they should apply it.

Fred Blaser
República Media Group