WASHINGTON (BP) — Predictably, the news cycles these days have been largely consumed with the unpredictable — the outcome of the 2012 presidential election and the future of the institution of marriage. This follows days of media showcasing the sensational — Secret Service prostitution scandals in Colombia and General Services Administration spending scandals in Las Vegas.
But almost entirely absent from media mention is a brewing scandal that combines aspects of these unfolding sagas.
Reeling from slowed business and smaller coffers in the wake of a 2006 law to clamp down on the illegal practice of online gambling, the gambling lobby is roaring back in an effort to convince the government to license and regulate betting on the niche game of Internet poker; all online games involving wagering are currently illegal.
Their renewed inspiration is a recent Justice Department opinion arguing that a major federal law on Internet gambling applies only to sports betting. Their rallying point is legislation introduced last summer by Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Texas). Cosponsored by 30 representatives, the “Internet Gambling Prohibition, Poker Consumer Protection, and Strengthening UIGEA Act of 2011” (H.R. 2366) would legalize online wagering of poker and place the cyber activities under government regulation.
While some might think the idea offers a winning hand, it’s a bad bet for America. The measure’s name itself is misleading. Contrary to its suggestive title, the Barton bill would not “strengthen UIGEA” — short for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which President Bush signed into law in 2006 — but instead weaken it.
The purpose of UIGEA, passed as part of a broader bill without objection in the Senate and with only two dissenters in the House, was to clarify that Internet gambling is illegal, reinforcing a 1961 law that banned gambling via wireless communication. It also went a step further: to put enforcement teeth to the law by requiring banks and financial institutions to block transactions between U.S.-based customer accounts and offshore gambling merchants, the biggest profiteers of the industry.
The effect of UIGEA on the online gambling industry’s bottom line was immediate and pronounced. Stocks in online gambling websites plummeted almost overnight. Some sites shut down altogether. Last year, others still in operation offshore suffered yet another blow. In an April 2011 raid that has been dubbed “Black Friday,” the government indicted the three biggest online poker profiteers — PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker — for bank fraud, money laundering and illegal gambling, freezing more than 75 bank accounts in 14 countries.
The pro-gambling lobby, however, remains undeterred. As one example, the Poker Players Alliance spent $1.4 million last year lobbying Washington power brokers in support of Internet gambling initiatives such as Rep. Barton’s bill, the Roll Call newspaper reported. This alliance, along with multiplied other gambling special interest groups, shows no intention of stepping away from the table this year, either.
No doubt there is money to be made in legalized online poker gambling. The gambling purveyors would rake in additional billions each year. According to the Barton bill, the government would collect “substantial revenue.” And a relative few players among millions would survive in the black, at least for a time.
But is there a greater price to be paid? The losers would far outnumber the winners. The most visible victims would include the countless people ensnared by the game one click at a time, unsatisfied with versions that offer no prospect of profit. Their addiction to the high stakes game in hopes of quick riches will devastate savings and divide marriages. Any revenue the government generates will be more than offset as we as a society have to step in and help pick up the pieces.
“God has given Christians principles for living in a proper relationship with Him and with each other,” says Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land. “They require us to worship God alone, remind us that He owns everything, warn us against greed, prompt us to love our neighbor, command us to work, admonish us to exercise our freedom in light of our witness, and instruct us in the proper role of civil government.”
“Gambling and its promotion violate these principles,” he adds. “It is my prayer that Christians will run from gambling in every form, for there is scarcely no greater act of disobedience and faithlessness than to cast your lot at the feet of some false idol, in this case, the gambling industry.”
To be sure, destroyed lives, broken families and financial ruin are all too often the unmasked face of Internet gambling. That’s why uncaging this shackled beast, even if restrained by government leash, is a losing wager for America. Too bad the media haven’t picked up on this scandal.
Doug Carlson is manager for administration and policy communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Washington D.C. office. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).