Friday, October 27
As recovering online poker addict Lauren Patrizi noted on Campus Progress in July, millions of college students have spent the last few years making bets–and losing money–in cash games on the internet. In the next few weeks, that number will likely drop to something pretty close to zero, because many gaming sites have shut out U.S. players in response to legislation signed by President Bush on October 13. Coming just weeks before a pivotal election, the legislation could be a timely reminder for gamblers that electoral politics can be as powerful as the flip of a card–and, if left unchecked, as capricious.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) surprised most gamblers when it zipped through Congress in September as a rider in a bill protecting port safety, inserted late in the game by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Promoted in various forms for years by an alliance of moralists and profit seekers, the law bans U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions to online gaming sites. Although a handful of sites continue to serve U.S. gamblers under the tenuous legal argument that poker should be exempt from the new law because it is a game of skill, not chance, most of the largest sites have already closed their cash games to U.S. players, threatening to bring to an end a fad that has enthralled as many as 23 million Americans.
Obviously a smattering of hedonistic liberals and libertarians are outraged, but even some conservatives are picking up on the fact that the act is both bad politics and bad policy. Charles Murray, of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, argued in The New York Times that the ban will alienate voters who he guesses are likely to be Republicans, and undermine Americans’ respect for the law in the same way that Prohibition did. In Newsweek, conservative economist George Will writes that, like any infringement on the free market, the ban will prevent an industry, and the economy at large, from growing. Indeed, the ban has the potential to put American money in foreign banks, send jobs overseas, and drive underground a multibillion dollar industry that could be regulated and taxed.