Online Gambling

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A state legislator in Washington has taken the bold position that people who play poker online should not be treated as felons. Rep. Chris Strow (R-Whidbey Island) is introducing a bill that would strike a provision of the online gambling ban passed by the state legislature last year that makes it a Class C felony to place bets online. He explains:

While I do see the need for protecting our citizens from online gaming that may be scamming innocent victims, I do think that there is also a level of accountability, as an adult, to do as he or she chooses in his or her own home. Most certainly choosing to gamble, or play a game of skill such as poker, should not have been made a crime equivalent to possessing child pornography or threatening the Governor….There's a certain point at which policy can be perceived as "nanny stateish." I think we reached that point with last year's legislation and I'm aiming to make amends.

While Strow's heart is in the general vicinity of the right place, the implication that legislators who vote to ban online gambling are mainly interested in preventing fraud is more than a little misleading. If anything, creating a black market facilitates fraud, while legalizing the business makes it easier for gamblers to avoid being ripped off. The aim of laws like these is to stop people from gambling, period, which is inherently "nanny stateish." Furthermore, there is a contradiction at the heart of the moral/legal distinction between gambling online and running a gambling website (similar to the problem with the distinction between using drugs and selling them): If playing online poker is a harmless pastime, or at least a form of recreation in which adults have a right to engage, how can helping people do it be a felony?

 [Thanks to Tom Paine's Goiter for the tip.]