Some Bets Are Off

As someone who has always received high ratings from libertarian groups for my voting record, I was disappointed with your recent feature on Internet gambling and my legislation to stop it ("Gambler's Web," October). Reasonable people can certainly disagree on the subject, but your lead story unfairly impugned my motives and contained arguments that are belied by the facts and are of questionable adherence to libertarian principles and logic.

Author Tom W. Bell cynically ascribes the interest of elected officials in enforcing gambling laws on the Internet to a love of tax revenue from land-based casinos and political contributions from their owners. Had he checked my record, he would have found that I don't like those taxes or government's reliance on the revenues they generate and I don't take money from gambling organizations. I have long opposed state-sponsored gambling and recently supported an effort to repeal the lottery in my state. So argue the merits of your position, Mr. Bell–don't try to win by slyly impugning my motives (inaccurately at that!).

I've also never misrepresented my bill as a "mere update of the Wire Act." That's only half of what it does–ensuring that law enforcement will retain the ability to prosecute the same sports gambling crimes in the future that it does today. My bill also addresses the enforcement gaps in nonsports gambling on the Internet–gambling that violates the law in virtually every state but which (because cyberspace does not recognize state boundaries) can only be enforced only at the federal level. The state attorneys general are considered pretty good federalists, resisting attempts at federal "power grabs." Yet they recognized the necessity of federal assistance in this area and asked me to introduce my legislation.

Ironically, Mr. Bell also criticizes my legislation because it doesn't prohibit enough gambling but contains what he calls "loopholes" that allow some forms of gambling to continue in the electronic arena. Due to the complexity of gambling laws in the nation and the fact that my bill attempts only to prevent the expansion of gambling rather than rolling back existing practices, such provisions are necessary. I don't like them; does Mr. Bell? If so, then he's being hypocritical for criticizing my bill. If not, why does he want to stop betting at Churchill Downs but not on the Internet?

After fretting about the effect of my legislation, Mr. Bell postulates that it won't work–that jurisdictional and technological problems will prevent effective enforcement. It is not the purpose of the bill to gain jurisdiction over the operators of off-shore casinos; rather, the intent is to stop the illegal activity from being conducted in the United States by shutting down access to illegal gambling Web sites. That may not always be easy, but when it is technically feasible, Internet service providers must do so.

Finally, Mr. Bell makes the astounding claim that Internet gambling is in fact beneficial to society, helping to get people out of smoky casinos, where they are plied with liquor and encouraged to keep betting, and into cybercasinos, where help for gambling addicts is just a "click" away. Leaving aside the speciousness of bragging about which form of harmful activity provides the best information about how to avoid doing it, experts agree that Internet gambling exacerbates the problems of conventional gambling because it removes the barriers to addiction. Its ease of access and repetition, and its privacy and, hence, lack of societal stigma, make electronic gambling what one professor has called "the crack cocaine of gambling."

Experts have testified that youth gambling will soon rival drug abuse as the biggest problem facing our children. Mr. Bell argues that cybercasinos are better equipped to check the age of participants but then quickly admits that Internet gambling will "marginally increase the chances that some kids will gamble." Amazingly, he argues that we should accept this outcome due to the benefits he claims Internet gambling will bring, such as movies on demand and better, more honest, and more competitive gambling. No thanks.

But the most telling point is how pleased Mr. Bell is that Internet gambling allows people to "escape the grip of merely local legislation"–in other words, to break the laws their fellow citizens have enacted. Principled people who wish for unlimited opportunities to gamble, or to do anything currently unlawful, should seek to convince their fellow citizens to change the law, not break it.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
Washington, D.C.

Tom W. Bell replies: I certainly agree with Sen. Kyl that opinions about Internet gambling differ, and rightly so. Reasonable people base their opinions on facts, however. I thus suggest that Kyl worry less about what he thinks my article implied and more about what it actually said.

It nowhere attempted to diagnose Kyl's motives for authoring the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. His particular motives did not matter to the analysis. Whether good or bad, they inspired a bill that protects the incumbent gambling industry from upstart Internet competitors. Regarding that, the article's central claim, Kyl remains notably silent.

Does Mr. Kyl regret that strange bedfellows hijacked his pure-hearted political crusade, turning it into a special-interest junket? Again, it does not matter. It matters only that Kyl's intentions launched this particular road trip to ruin. He cannot escape responsibility by claiming that he meant well.

Kyl should pay more attention to what he himself has said, too. He has on several occasions defended his Internet Gambling Prohibition Act solely in terms of updating existing law. Take, for instance, his comments during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup of his bill on June 17, 1999: "The advent of the Internet, a communications media not envisioned by the Wire Act, requires enactment of a new law to address the activities in cyberspace. The essence of the bill is that it bans gambling on the Internet, just as the Wire Act prohibited gambling over the wires."

As Kyl now admits, however, his Internet Gambling Prohibition Act does a great deal more than just update the Wire Act. His bill would for the first time ban gambling-related transmissions that do not cross state lines or that travel between states which allow the gambling in question. Kyl's bill would also redefine "gambling business" to include anyone who wins more than $2,000 in one day. In short, his bill would vastly expand federal power in an area traditionally left to the states.

Of course some state attorneys general welcome Kyl's bill; it gives them concurrent authority to prosecute Internet gambling. Their opinions matter little, at any rate, because they are not elected legislators. Nor does Kyl represent the state attorneys general–unless, of course, this senator from Arizona has become the senator for other politicians.

Kyl should perhaps also pay closer attention to what others have said about Internet gambling. Although his present letter neglected to do so, Kyl has elsewhere credited the "crack cocaine of gambling" line to Professor Robert Goodman of Hampshire College. Professor Goodman was referring not to Internet gambling, however, but to slot machines and video poker–distinctly lower-tech and non-networked games.

Kyl misquoted me on the risk that Internet gambling poses to kids. The full line reads: "At most, it will marginally increase the chances that some kids will gamble–kids with unsupervised and unfiltered Internet connections, who have not been raised to steer clear of adult-only activities, and who have ready access to credit cards." Those extra words matter. They show not only that prohibitionists exaggerate the threat to kids but that responsibility lies with each kid's family.

Kyl poses a false dichotomy when he asks whether I favor giving the incumbent gambling industry special treatment (as his bill does) or banning all types of gambling (as he apparently would like to do). He overlooks a third option, one immediately apparent to anyone concerned with individual rights: Let people peaceably dispose of their money as they alone see fit.

Once again we witness the devastating effects of the crack cocaine of conservatism: trying to legislate morality.

Preservation Methods

The article about Taylor Ranch in Colorado ("Treasure of La Sierra," October) was a welcome sight. My group, La Herencia en Santa Fe, has been lobbying the state legislature for land grants and rights under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo for more than 15 years. Some 40 million acres in Colorado are in the same legal position as the Taylor Ranch. Our group feels that private ownership is the only way to conserve these vast areas of the West.

New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman are planning on introducing legislation on the land grants in this session of Congress. We are very concerned because they also want to purchase some land grant property and put it into the hands of the U.S. Forest Service.

La Herencia wants the land returned to the original heirs. If the government can't find the heirs, the group wants to be responsible for electing the Board of Trustees to administer these lands.

We do not feel that the federal government can do anything but create more problems for the impoverished people of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Private ownership and the government fulfillment of its trust responsibility are the only solutions for the future preservation of these lands.

We also feel that families like the Forbeses and Turners have done the right thing by preserving these lands. Most people think that groups like ours want to force everyone off our land grants. Our second group, Los Vecinos del Norte, does not want anyone to leave their land. There is nothing we can do about land loss that occurred more than 100 years ago; the only thing we can do now is live in peace with our neighbors. We are, however, reclaiming every single parcel of land that the government has had a hand in messing up.

Carmen Quintana
Santa Fe, NM

Karl Hess Jr. and Tom Wolf argue that prospects for improved management of the Taylor Ranch arise from "the transforming power of the marketplace." But their evidence, and the history of the ranch, do not support such a conclusion.

The Taylor Ranch has been privately held and "in the marketplace" for more than a century and a half, including the past four decades, while it has been controlled by the Taylor family. Its untransformed management during the latter period has ranged in ecological quality from fair to dreadful. Socially, things have been worse, as the Taylors have assiduously defended their property "rights" against their neighbors while acknowledging nothing by way of property responsibilities.

What seems to be transforming matters now is that long-hostile parties are at last negotiating with each other meaningfully and finding ways in which to cooperate–a process that Hess and Wolf, to their credit, have materially advanced. Opening needed channels of communication is fundamentally a social process, not an economic one, and it can take place on public lands as well as private ones. After that, finding ways to make the numbers work is the smaller part of the puzzle.

The authors' gratuitous reference to "a grim sea of failed federal management" betrays their operating prejudice. While current management of Ted Turner's Vermejo Ranch may indeed be exemplary, it does not follow that private management ipso facto is better than public. The Taylors themselves have furnished proof to the contrary, as have many greater and lesser names from Charles Hurwitz to the anonymous proprietors of any number of farms, ranches, and subdivisions throughout the nation.

If the free market were a silver bullet for wise stewardship of the land, we would never have had a Dust Bowl or Love Canal, and non-point-source pollution would occur only on public land. The good work of the authors toward transforming matters at the Taylor Ranch is an important story and deserves telling, but their ax-grinding obscures the story's essential message: that shared good will and willingness to adapt can improve any management situation, public or private.

William deBuys
Santa Fe, NM

Tom Wolf and Karl Hess Jr. reply: Whether in life or in politics, there are no panaceas. Neither private nor federal ownership guarantees good conservation. However, the right incentives and institutions make private land a more promising setting today, especially when private lands can lead to better management of adjacent public lands, as they do in northern Colorado's Owl Mountain Partnership.

A century ago, the federalization of public lands may have been the right solution to an unregulated tragedy of the commons. But today, when conflicting political agendas and value systems gridlock management of our public lands, we look to private and communal lands for innovations, especially ones that are market-based. Mr. deBuys is correct that private landowners have rights as well as duties, but he ignores how both government and local politicians conspired to restrict the property rights of the owners of the Taylor Ranch to the point that no market solutions were possible because no clear title existed. Recent events at the ranch show that such a stand off is not inevitable and that both the ranch owners and their neighbors can benefit if they respect each other's property rights and work to expand their share of common resources through market-based solutions.

The quest by Ms. Quintana's group for more local and private solutions to New Mexico's Baca Ranch may actually get some attention if a bill passes to fund acquisition of the ranch and put its management in the hands of a board that is more locally responsible. People unfamiliar with the history of New Mexico may forget that what are now "public" lands were often once part of Mexican and Spanish land grants. How those grant lands found their way into the public domain is a subject that Congress should perhaps look at. In the meantime, a federally funded buyout of the Baca Ranch may move us a step closer to local solutions.

Finally, we are proud to be putting our own theories into practice through a conservation effort we call The Long-Term Landholder Monitoring & Stewardship Project. This 10-year experiment will go a long way toward developing answers to critics like Mr. deBuys–and also perhaps satisfy the longings of those who, like Ms. Quintana, think that conservation is better served if it is part of a sustainable local economic and ecological effort.

Limited Market

Thank you for the informative and interesting article, "Truth, Terror, and David Trimble," by Michael McMenamin (October). I wish to clarify one point made, and that is that at no time since publishing The Committee: Political Assassination in Northern Ireland have we sold this book in the United Kingdom or Ireland.

Kalen Landow
Press Officer
Roberts Rinehart Publishers
Niwot, CO