The GOP's Vision of a 'Family-Friendly Internet' Leaves No Room for Poker

As Lucy Steigerwald mentioned yesterday, the 2012 Republican platform includes a couple of lines about gambling:

Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department's decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting. 

The implicit argument here is what I've called the addict's veto: Because some people may overindulge in activity X, no one should be allowed to do it. Both Republicans and Democrats find that logic attractive with respect to certain sources of pleasure, e.g., junk food (Democrats), pornography (Republicans), alcohol (Democrats), and illegal drugs (both). As far as I can tell, there is no rhyme or reason to the targets favored by each party; it is simply a matter of culturally and historically contingent tastes.

In this case, the desire to ban online gambling not only violates the Republicans' avowed commitment to small, minimally intrusive government (yeah, I know); it leads the party to endorse a strategy that undermines the rule of law and the separation of powers by asking the executive branch to rewrite a statute so it better comports with the GOP's paternalistic agenda. As U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein noted in his recent decision holding that poker is not covered by the Illegal Gambling Business Act, the Wire Act "applies only to wagering on sporting events." The relevant section says (emphasis added):

Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

In 2002 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the highest court that has addressed the issue, held that the Wire Act is limited to sports betting. The appeals court deemed the scope of the law so clear that it did not even bother to discuss the question, simply stating, "We agree with the district court's statutory interpretation, its reading of the relevant case law, its summary of the relevant legislative history, and its conclusion." As the GOP platform says, the Justice Department for years nevertheless insisted that the Wire Act banned all forms of online gambling. But that interpretation was highly implausible, as the department's Office of Legal Counsel explained in a September 2011 memo repudiating it. Although the memo may have been motivated mainly by a desire to clear the way for online, interstate sales of state lottery tickets, it is laughable to suggest that the DOJ is "distorting" the statute by deferring to its plain language.

The GOP's gambling plank, by the way, is part of a section called "Making the Internet Family-Friendly," which includes this sentence: "The Internet must be made safe for children." You might call this the child's veto (or, more accurately, the parent's veto): If something is inappropriate for children, no one should be able to see it. The Supreme Court has decisively rejected that argument, which is also hard to reconcile with the GOP's insistence that "there should be no regulation of political speech on the Internet." What about political speech that is not "family-friendly"? For example: The Republican Party says "the Internet must be made safe for children." Fuck that.

Addendum: The Republican platform, which called for "legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet" in 2000 and 2004, switched in 2008 to the statement, "We support the law prohibiting gambling over the Internet." Which law was that? Presumably the platform writers had in mind the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which did not in fact prohibit online gambling; it merely created new offenses tied to transactions involving forms of gambling that were already illegal. Perhaps realizing their error, Republicans this time around have switched to a more ambiguous formulation: "We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet"—a prohibition that does not currently exist, unless you buy the GOP's absurdly broad reading of the Wire Act.  

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  • Brutus||

    They'll approve it as soon as they can figure out how to get the "house cut."

  • Scotticus Finch||

    Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling poor driving ability that can destroy families. We support the prohibition of gambling cars being driven after dusk...

    Anything that "can destroy families" = banned. Fuck off, slaver.

  • crazyfingers||

    This must not be part of the "95 percent of the issues" that Rand Paul claims libertarians agree with the GOP on.

  • Tim||

    Well the truth is that I'm only seven years old and you all should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • BarryD||

    LOL

    Just about every single day, there's a regular news story on ordinary news outlets, about some politician being caught doing something you really wouldn't want to explain to your five-year-old.

    How about we make politicians, of both parties, "family-friendly" first. Then we worry about the Internet.

  • SugarFree||

    If politicians don't teach children about anonymous sex in public bathrooms, who will? Got an answer for that, smart guy?

  • Hugh Akston||

    Kids learn all they need to learn about sex in the Boy Scouts, Catholic churches, and youth athletic programs.

  • BarryD||

    Good point. There are some things that only a celebrity would do, and some things that nobody but a politician would do.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    The only time I've gotten my father to use the internet is to play online poker. We had a good time doing that. Clearly family unfriendly.

  • RBS||

    What? Clearly your father is a monster.

  • ||

    You misspelled "molester".

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I'm the monster. I am the one who got him into both poker and online poker.

  • ||

    You misspelled "molester" and "poke her".

  • ant1sthenes||

    Awesome. So, this election is basically the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

  • $park¥||

    When did poker become the national pastime? Forget that, when did poker become a sport? Why the fuck is ESPN showing the World fucking Series of Poker? What kind of deranged asshole likes to sit and watch people play cards? This is the most pretentious bullshit to come out in a looooong time.

  • Auric Demonocles||

    I agree that it's not a sport, but who cares if people like poker enough to watch the best people in the world play it? Do you have an issue with people who watch top chess matches?

  • $park¥||

    If deranged assholes want to watch that crap then more power to them. Are you saying I don't have the right to call them deranged assholes for doing it?

  • Joe R.||

    You, just like they have the right to call you a deranged asshole for getting so worked up about it.

  • RBS||

    My issue is there are other actual sports that could be on TV during the WSOP. I don't have a problem with it being televised I just don't think it should be on ESPN, FSN etc.

  • Zeb||

    Honestly. If they are going to put card games on TV, they should at least do an interesting game like Whist or Pinochle.

  • ||

    Go Fish.

  • RBS||

    War, maybe Crazy Eights.

  • $park¥||

    I could probably sit through watching some rousing games of Bullshit or Slapjack, but that's about it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    So what you're saying is that anyone who doesn't share your ADHD is a "deranged asshole".

  • $park¥||

    I guess that's a fairly accurate statement.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Fair enough.

  • Mike M.||

    I've heard poker called a lot of things, but this is definitely the first time I have ever heard it described as "pretentious".

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yeah, I noticed that online bookies had been advertising for US clients again. With the DoJ working on trafficking guns to Mexican gangsters, I guess the climate got better.

  • crazyfingers||

    Yes, Americans easily can play on several sites, such as Lockpoker. Not as many rubes as there were during the Full Tilt/Pokerstars heyday though.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Not just poker and horses, but sports books as well.

  • RBS||

    I don't get why the poker sites were such a huge deal to the feds but a site like twinspires is ok?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Pari-mutuel racing is (and has been) legal almost everywhere in the US for some time. Poker, not so much. Why? I think we know the answer to that.

  • RBS||

    Yeah, but what's the reasoning? The house doesn't get a cut so it's ok? Thinking about gambling laws in this country gives me a headache.

  • ||

    Pari-mutuel betting is generally in the same class as casino gambling and Jai-alai. Gambling is only legal within the confines of a state granted monopoly to a specific favored emterprise. And it is conditioned on the state getting its cut.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think it's generally that the state has gotten a decent size cut from pari-mutuel (~20%), but did not have such a system for poker, so they would have had to swipe money only through income tax. This would explain why running numbers is illegal, but a state lotto where the state rakes off 50% is okey-dokey.

    Also, Baptists and Bootleggers - horse racing isn't something that can be done on the sly, so they had to set up some deal with the state. Poker games were traditionally run out of back rooms by mobsters, who had their own agenda for not wanting them legalized.

  • ||

    Exactly, Old chap.

    Email me when you want to go for a beer again.

  • Proprietist||

    The GOP's vision of a 'family-friendly internet' leaves no room for poker...or pokers.

  • Raston Bot||

    So far their platform has been great... for me to poop on.

    -Triumph

  • ||

    Now that/i (Triumph) is GOP coverage I would actually watch.

  • ||

    Awww, fuck. HTML fail.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    The online gambling ban really pissed me off when it was first passed. It was hidden in an unrelated bill and signed without any discussion, and has been quite effective at killing a vibrant and consensual marketplace for betting.

    Whereas obscenity statutes vis a vis pornography are relatively easy to get around, the online gambling ban has been all too functional. One of the few things that the social conservatives have been able to do in terms of federal policy for the last ten years, and of course it can't be one of the freedom-expanding items on their agenda.

  • Dr. Frankenstein||

    I'll say it again. You can't protect the children by infantilizing the adults.

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