A couple of weeks ago, I suggested in a column for Fox News that the Internet gambling ban could motivate an otherwise apolitical group of people — online poker players — into political activism. The email response was overwhelming, in part because the column was posted in several poker discussion groups. But by a 10-1 margin, email responders were livid, many claiming to be lifelong Republicans who will now be voting for the Democrats, solely because of the gambling ban.
I'm not sure the Dems would be any better on this, though that magical, mystical, yet-to-actually-be-seen creature, the "Libertarian Democrat," might.
In any case, there seems to be at least some anecdotal evidence that a backlash is in the works. Since President Bush signed the ban into law, poker boards have been trying to organize, with some help from groups like the Poker Players' Alliance.
The primary target seems to be Arizona Sen. John Kyl, chief sponsor of the ban in the Senate, and sponsor of anti-Internet gambling legislation in every Congress since the late 1990s.
The Gambling911.com website in particular has taken in the lead in urging Arizona's Internet gamblers to get to the polls, notably by utilizing the early voting option, to cast their votes for Kyl's Democratic challenger Jim Pederson.
So is it working?
Maybe. Kyl's once double-digit lead has been halved since President Bush signed the gambling ban into law. A few polls even show it to be within the margin of error. More interesting, one survey of early voters actually shows Pederson with a four-point lead, and that's from a sample of voters that were disproportionately Republican in voter registration. Early voters are expected to comprise about 30 percent of Arizona's turnout.
Of course it's possible that Pederson's rise is due more to general nti-GOP backlash than an organized poker campaign against Kyl. But other polls around the country are apparently showing a slight GOP uptick in recent weeks. This one is moving the other way. It's also possible that Kyl will end up winning by the healthy margin polls were showing last month (my guess: he'll win by 4-6 points). But the timing of Pederson's surge certainly suggests that something interesting may be afoot.
A more daunting task for poker enthusiasts would be to begin organizing against Rep. Jim Leach and Rep. Bob Goodlatte for the 2008 election. Those two congressmen shepherded the bill through the House (see my TV debate with the clueless Goodlatte here). Both are in relatively safe districts, so bumping them off would be a huge accomplishment. Unfortunately, the poker lobby seems to be more interested in winning an exemption for poker from the ban as a "game of skill" than a broader, principled effort to revoke the ban in its entirety.
That would be good news for poker players, but bad news for supporters of the idea that gambling at home on one's computer is none of the government's damned business.
ADDENDUM: As a fairly avid player myself, I actually do believe that poker is a "game of skill." The quotes weren't meant to imply sarcasm. And I understand why a group like the PPA would seek an exemption now that the ban has become law. After all, they represent "poker" players, not all online gamblers.
I'm just saying that if this has indeed fired some people up, I hope their motivation would continue beyond just a poker exemption, toward getting the entire ban revoked, and keeping the federal government out of the business of monitoring consensual online activity altogether.