Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Laws, Damn Laws, and Exceptions

This is a post about online gaming, poker specifically.  Really.  It’s just gonna take me some time to get there.  Enjoy the ride.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current state of affairs as it relates to online poker.  On the one hand we see three states that have websites up and running where online poker is legal and available; a far cry from Black Friday almost three years ago.  On the other hand most of the players in the US still can’t play.  And there are rumblings from the “Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling” to put a kibosh on what’s already been re-established now and for the future, and they just picked up some support from Steve Wynn, casino magnate who, not incidentally was for Internet gaming not that long ago (as in he just got approved to offer it in New Jersey). 

Wait, what?

OK, here’s where I wander a bit.  The fact is, we’ve been weird about rules and laws and the like ever since…well, since forever.  We find it hard to follow the Golden Rule to the letter, we can’t manage to keep the 10 Commandments, the 600+ laws of Leviticus is a circus of pick-and-choose (my favorite is the anti-gay guy who tattooed Leviticus 18:22 on his arm, ignoring Leviticus 19:28), there are 25,000+ pages of tax code, etc.

The very founding document of our country states, “All men are created equal,” yet for 80+ years some men were only 3/5ths of other men, and women weren’t even in the equation.  And many of the laws and rules we have on the books are not really new laws, but “exceptions” and “clarifications (read: exceptions)” and “modifications (read: exceptions).  So the rule is the rule, except…however…unless.  And so some rules apply to some people sometimes, but not others at other times.

So it’s no surprise that the current situation regarding legislation of online gaming/poker is such a hit-and-miss event.  Bi-polar?  Schizoid?  What term to even use here?

The main gist is the infamous “Federal Wire Act” (actually called the Interstate Wire Act of 1961) which prohibited…well, read the act (here’s part a):

(a) 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.

Of course, the main impetus for the Wire Act back then was to prohibit “transmission” to the illegal bookmakers who were mostly involved with taking bets on…horse racing.  And when the equally infamous UIGEA was passed in 2006, it attempted to prohibit, “…knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet…” There were two exceptions made – and one was for horse racing!  (The other was for Fantasy Leagues, which just proves the old adage that watching laws being made is like watching the making of sausages, except here you have NFL officials wearing a few aprons, I guess.)

But I digress from my main point, which is this – Federal laws have normally been of the “you can’t do that” mode when it relates to gambling, except that they left the “loophole” of letting states decide for themselves whether or not to allow certain functions within their own boundaries.  This might have been fine and good back in the horse and buggy era, but nowadays it doesn’t work well at all.  Not even considering the Internet, think about how well an anti-gaming stance works in keeping the good citizens of Utah away from the dangers of the Lottery:  the most popular Idaho Lottery outlet can be found in the small town of Malad…yup, right on the Utah-Idaho border.  Actually, the top FIVE outlets are all on the Utah-Idaho border.

So given the universality of the Internet (and pretty much life in general), it’s high time that the Feds decided once and for all to either bet or get out of the pot.  Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition says it wants to “…restore the federal ban on Internet gambling” but one might be tempted to ask – would this include horse racing?  Do you think the Attorneys General from Arizona, Florida, and Michigan – all states with major horse racing action – would sign on to the Coalition’s letter calling for a national ban on online gaming unless there was some “clarification” that the new law would NOT apply to horse racing?  Don’t bet on it.

Unfortunately, I also would not bet that the gummit gets its collective shit together and decides, once and for all, whether we can sit down at the electronic felt and spend our dollars as we choose.  For whatever reason, government by the people for the people seems to want to worry about other more pressing issues, like jobs.


It was really difficult to type that last sentence without laughing.

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