Today, in an event that seems appropriate for guys who gamble in the comfort of their homes, the Poker Players Alliance is sponsoring a "Phone March on Capitol Hill" to protest the online gambling ban that was approved by the House in July and is now being considered by the Senate. The PPA's arguments are generally sound, but I think the group makes a mistake by implying that poker deserves special treatment as "a skill game." Poker certainly requires more skill than, say, roulette, but is there any reason to believe legislators care about that? The bill passed by the House exempts state-sponsored lotteries and horse racing. These are not exactly games of skill; they're barely even games. What distinguishes them is the political clout of the people who profit from them.
For those who lack such clout, history suggests a principled argument against government attempts to dictate adults' recreational choices may ultimately be more effective than special pleading. In the run-up to Prohibition, alcoholic beverage producers failed to maintain a united front ; brewers thought they could remain legal while their competitors in the liquor business were closed down. They expected the government to draw a distinction based on alcoholic strength. Similarly, the PPA is suggesting a distinction based on skill requirements. But even if Congress passes a ban that includes an exemption for "skill games," it will be a small thing to go back and close the poker loophole.