Ante Up Against Government Intrusion

The case against Internet gambling bans

Not long ago, a district judge in Colorado declared that poker is a game of "gambling" rather than "skill" because "while poker ... might involve some skill, these games certainly are contingent 'in part' upon chance, and when, as here, the games involve risking a thing of value for gain, they constitute a form of gambling."

Guess what? Nearly everything we do in life depends "in part" on "chance." So we might as well think of our entire existence as one colossal game of craps—with government as the hairy-knuckled, silk-suited mobster calling in the "vig" (whatever the heck that is).

And if poker were primarily a game of chance—rather than skill—probability dictates that I would have won a decent pot once in my stinking lifetime. I have not.

For me, then, no supplementary evidence is needed to recognize poker as a game of logic, deftness, and deception, with only a sprinkling of luck. But if you're interested, there are reams of studies, law journal articles, and mathematical equations proving poker's rightful place among skill games.

All of this is important why? Well, across the nation, poker players are mounting legal challenges using the "skill" defense in hopes of defining poker as a non-gambling game—both online and in real life.

To begin with, it seems impractical and rather silly for government to decide what games we can play. Chance or no chance, it is un-American (to pinch a phrase from Madam Speaker) for the police to raid suburban restaurants and pubs so they can weed out the debauchery of low-stakes Texas Hold 'em. Yet that kind of raid is not as rare as you may think.

And how many rational Americans believe that federal diktats on computer gaming are reasonable intrusions into the privacy of citizens?

Since 2006, Republicans—who acted like a gaggle of hand-wringing Carrie Nations—have been pushing a clampdown on Internet gambling, sponsoring legislation to make it illegal for banks and credit card companies to process payments of gambling operations. The Justice Department has frozen or confiscated $34 million belonging to players who have a talent to take it from schnooks like me.

We all know the cliché about the two certainties of life. One of these certainties can be affixed to poker gamers, making a once-underground activity a government boon.

The other certainty of life is made immeasurably more bearable by occasionally indulging in pleasurable activities, which, for some, happens to include playing poker on a computer for money.

After all, when it's convenient, Republicans argue that Americans have entirely too much government interference in their daily lives. Here they have an opportunity to shed a thin layer of hypocrisy by supporting legislation that allows citizens to indulge in an activity they enjoy in the privacy of their own homes.

One such bill, offered by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), currently has more than 50 co-signers (a few Republicans).

In the Senate, Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), recently introduced the Internet Poker and Games of Skill Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act (not surprisingly, government has the ability to make playing cards sound like a joyless bureaucratic mess), which stipulates that poker "is part of the cultural and recreational fabric of the United States" and should be legalized.

Now, I will concede that simply because an activity is part of the cultural and recreational fabric of the nation does not necessarily mean that we have a patriotic duty to legalize it, or pot, prostitution, and Ponzi schemes already would be on the legislative docket.

One thing at a time.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Visit his Web site at www.DavidHarsanyi.com.

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  • glider202||

    I love this line: So we might as well think of our entire existence as one colossal game of craps-with government as the hairy-knuckled, silk-suited mobster calling in the "vig" (whatever the heck that is).

  • ||

    Internet gambling is an industry that started at zero in 1995, and is now predicted to gross close to $25 billion dollars by 2010, in spite of everything the powers-that-be have been able to throw at it. All efforts at prohibition have come to essentially nothing. Far from withering under government disapproval, Internet gambling is now comfortably established in this country, and expanding with official support.. A total of 29 states use the Internet to help horse betting today, and five more use it to sell state lottery tickets.

    Meanwhile the USA makes up over half the online poker market- about $7 billion. The only sane thing to do would be for the state governments to license and supervise it. Which they are already empowered to do under the UIGEA. Quite apart from the new revenue stream, it's the only effective way to protect the " problem gamblers" that everyone seems to be so concerned about.

    But as long as the US authorities stick their heads in the sand and pretend they can outlaw the future, the offshore poker sites will continue to rake in the dough.

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    As a counterpart to socialist dictatorship, the West had its own regressive revolt against laissez-faire liberalism: the "social-democratic" welfare-warfare state. One of the most prescient voices on this matter was nineteenth-century English polymath Herbert Spencer, a figure since inanely caricaturized as a dog-eat-dog, let-the-poor-starve "Social Darwinist" (in other words, a pseudo-scientist on par with Marx and Hitler). Spencer recognized that the "new" legislation was merely an excavation of the ancient statutes whose repeal had ushered in the liberal era. The employment restrictions of the Act of 1870? Not at all unlike those of Edward VI. The Seed Supply Act of 1880? Its purpose much the same as similar agrarian laws passed in 1597 and even 1533. The inspection regulations? No different than those under the "law of Edward III." Recent restrictions on alcohol? An echo of the fourteenth century, "when diet as well as dress was restricted." The latest prohibition of gambling? A reflection of "edicts issued by Henry VIII to prevent the lower classes from playing dice, cards, bowls, etc." And what was the "new" Poor Law but "identical in nature with the system of 'make-wages' under the old Poor Law"? Small wonder that Spencer characterized all this, not as a necessary next stage of liberalism, but as a "new form of Toryism."

    FROM HERE

  • ||

    The policians just want a piece of the action, as they do with their lotteries, casinos, and racetracks.

  • farg||

    There's a case to be made that large-scale Vegas-style gambling is a form of fraud (because no, you can't be a winner), or at least that it plays on human weaknesses in a way that makes libertarian, rational actor-based discourse inappropriate. Gambling addicts are like little children or mentally handicapped people we need to look out for, not like adults we can trust to ruin their own lives.

    It depresses the hell out of me when once-vibrant towns like Bethlehem PA latch onto gambling, which is parasitic and unproductive even if you think it should be unregulated, as a means of reviving their economies. At least gambling is more honest about what it is than real estate development.

    At best gambling is the kind of thing that should be legal, like heroin, but not encouraged.

  • Wicks Cherrycoke||

    "The policians just want a piece of the action, as they do with their lotteries, casinos, and racetracks."

    Hey, you didn't think that Barney Frank and Robert Menedez suddenly became fans of smaller government, did you?

  • Patrick||

    "Gambling addicts are like little children or mentally handicapped people we need to look out for, not like adults we can trust to ruin their own lives."

    So we have to make it illegal because some people are idiots? And anyway, why can't we trust them to ruin their own lives? I don't really care.

  • Enyap||

    Way to read the whole fucking post Patrick

  • jhn||

    I don't know whether gambling should be illegal, but it's certainly not inconsistent with libertarianism to admit that some people actually can't be trusted to run their own lives (they're essentially retards), and that people who prey on these types should be fucking crushed. By the state.

  • CatoTheElder||

    jhn wrote: "I don't know whether gambling should be illegal, but it's certainly not inconsistent with libertarianism to admit that some people actually can't be trusted to run their own lives (they're essentially retards), and that people who prey on these types should be fucking crushed. By the state."

    I love the concept of State fucking crushing those who prey upon the intellectually challenged ... as if the State really gave a damn.

    Unfortunately, the State depends upon the exploitation of the intellectually challenged for it health, maintenance, and growth.

    The State prohibits or severely regulates gambling, drugs, prostitution, etc. because these are individual activities that have historically be considered contrary to the interests of the State.

  • Gunboat Diplomacy||

    "or at least that it plays on human weaknesses in a way that makes libertarian, rational actor-based discourse inappropriate"

    Why is there an "r" in your name?

  • ||

    I think Cato is right that the State thinks these are contrary to the interests of the state, but really they're only contrary to the interests of those that think we shouldn't do what they don't like. The State can actually do quite well if it's people are happy. Less complaining and more jobs means more production and these activities as well as greater production mean more revenues for the State, allowing it to grow and remain strong. Also, the more the State allows, the less likely they are to face revolution.

  • Trevor||

    Calling poker a game of chance is like calling natural selection a random process. Statistics is all about predicting outcomes from a series of random events. Banning gambling is stupid anyway, but banning poker as a game of chance is even worse.

  • Bearcat||

    "Vig" is not about gambling, it is about loan sharking, a related industry.
    Vig is the rent you pay on the money you borrow. You pay it regularly and it does not count against the loan amount, it is straight rent.

  • ||

    A long time ago, Mark Twain wrote a short story of how poker was declared a game of skill in Nevada. Look it up it is funny and true.

  • ||

    It's amazing that someone can view a competition involving mathmatical probability, deception, and the ability to predict human nature as "gambling". Roulette, craps, etc. are gambling in that if you stake a consistent position, random chance and the "house edge" will beat you more times than not.

    But poker? Why do the same group of people win consistently? hmmm?

    I play at least 4 times a week, for real money, and do quite nicely.

    And all I know for sure is: If you sit down at a table and can't spot the guy with the red nose within 2 minutes, it's "you" Rudolph!

  • ||

    Forbes-

    The policians just want a piece of the action, as they do with their lotteries, casinos, and racetracks.

    Of course! The T-bred and Harness bettors have been funding the various State Racing Commissions for decades.

    If you want to play, you gotta pay...

  • ||

    jhn-

    I don't know whether gambling should be illegal, but it's certainly not inconsistent with libertarianism to admit that some people actually can't be trusted to run their own lives (they're essentially retards), and that people who prey on these types should be fucking crushed. By the state.

    +1

  • ksjhjd||

    All roads lead to Rome.

  • ||

    OH MY GOD!!! will no one think of the children? *sob sob*

    Whatever happened to personal responsibility? But then again the government does know how to run our lives and spend our money better than we do. I am so glad for the government... I think im going to go make out with the business end of a shotgun

  • Rick||

    "Vig" is short for:
    Vigorish - "rake-off: a percentage (of winnings or loot or profit) taken by an operator or gangster"

    Your use of the term was a little mangled, but it certainly applies to the government. They rake the "vig", but nobody "calls in" the "vig".

    I still liked your article :)

  • abercrombie milano||

    My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I'm sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won't get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there's more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I'm not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It's just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight...the Bible's books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on...the Bible's books were written by people with very different mindsets..

  • nike shox||

    is good

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