Internet Gambling & the Hypocrisy of Focus on the Family

by on May 19, 2010 · 4 comments

Declan McCullagh of CNet News reports (“Congress May Roll Dice, Legalize Net Gambling“) that some in Congress are reconsidering the wisdom of prohibitions on Internet gambling, which we have discussed here many times before. Declan notes there’s another hearing on the issue today and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) will be discussing his continuing effort to allow Internet casinos to obtain licenses from and be regulated by the federal government:

Frank, who will be testifying during Wednesday’s hearing, says that because nearly all states already permit some form of traditional gambling–including lotteries, betting on horse and greyhound racing, and sports wagering — the federal government should legalize and regulate the online equivalents. Instead of a blanket legalization, his legislation would require the Treasury Department to police the industry and ensure that it takes adequate steps to identify minors and compulsive gamblers.

My TLF colleague Tom Bell has done seminal work in this field and you will definitely want to check out his recent essay, “The UnInGEn-ious Act’s Non-Impact on Internet Gambling” and his classic 1999 Cato white paper, “Internet Gambling: Popular, Inexorable, and (Eventually) Legal.”  What Tom has done better than anyone else is to show that, as is the case with almost every “market activity devoted to the pursuit of happiness,” eventually the law will adjust to accommodate these activities.  It may take some time for the law to adjust, but it will.

Incidentally, I loved this little gem of a quote that Declan included in his story from the activist group Focus on the Family, which argues of this effort to legalize online gambling:

“This is all about Big Government decriminalizing an addictive, predatory vice in order to exploit more citizens for more money…When federal government tries to cannibalize its own citizens for more revenues, something is wrong.”

Wait, what?  How can the decriminalization of something about “Big Government.” The exact opposite is the case. Look, you can find other excuses to try to regulate “vice” — although I’ve always subscribed to the theory that not every sin should be a crime — but don’t ask us to believe that this is about fighting Big Government when Big Government is the one fining people or throwing them in jail for exercising their freedom to enjoy themselves and spend their money as they wish.  That’s true freedom.

Of course, I would find more sympathy for Focus on the Family’s argument if it really was all about fighting the imposition of taxes on Net gambling proceeds. But that’s not what Focus on the Family really cares about here. They just want to keep Net gambling banned.  And that’s true “Big Government” at its worst.

  • http://twitter.com/McLeanBen Benjamin McLean

    Focus may have a point if the federal government is going to be profiting from the gambling. I agree with them that the lottery is a tax on stupid people who can't do math and the government has no business running a lottery. If it's going to exist it needs to be private.

  • leviramsey

    On the scale of government oppression, taxation certainly ranks below imprisonment.

  • Paul Product

    Anyone seeking coherence and intelligence from Focus on the Family is going to be sorely disappointed (even people who share their underlying attitudes toward certain behaviors). SOme choice nuggets:
    “If gambling was healthy for our nation, it would have been included in the Constitution, but it's not.”
    FotF seems to think the Constitution contains an enumerated list of positive freedoms. In which case, all that is not expressly permitted is forbidden. However, I'm guessing most FotF members are familiar with sets of rules phrased in the negative, as in “Thou shalt not…”

    “And what about states' rights to determine what forms of gambling are – and are not – legal within their own borders? Federal government is overstepping it's boundaries by forcing Internet gambling on states that don't want it. This, by the way, is in our Constitution.”
    This just turns the internet gambling issue on its head. It's current law that prevents states from legalizing internet gambling within their borders. If FLorida wants to allow its citizens to gamble in online casinos in Antigua, it can't. Which is not to say that federal regulation of this sort of activity isn't constitutional — the commerce clause is pretty clear in giving Congress the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.

  • Paul Product

    Anyone seeking coherence and intelligence from Focus on the Family is going to be sorely disappointed (even people who share their underlying attitudes toward certain behaviors). SOme choice nuggets:
    “If gambling was healthy for our nation, it would have been included in the Constitution, but it's not.”
    FotF seems to think the Constitution contains an enumerated list of positive freedoms. In which case, all that is not expressly permitted is forbidden. However, I'm guessing most FotF members are familiar with sets of rules phrased in the negative, as in “Thou shalt not…”

    “And what about states' rights to determine what forms of gambling are – and are not – legal within their own borders? Federal government is overstepping it's boundaries by forcing Internet gambling on states that don't want it. This, by the way, is in our Constitution.”
    This just turns the internet gambling issue on its head. It's current law that prevents states from legalizing internet gambling within their borders. If FLorida wants to allow its citizens to gamble in online casinos in Antigua, it can't. Which is not to say that federal regulation of this sort of activity isn't constitutional — the commerce clause is pretty clear in giving Congress the authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.

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