• United States
News Editor

This is madness in any month

Mar 22, 20044 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsRegulation

With identity thieves, virus writers and spammers running willy-nilly across the Web, federal prosecutors nonetheless have decided they have the time and taxpayer dollars to prosecute media outlets for doing nothing more than selling advertising to online gambling sites.

With identity thieves, virus writers and spammers running willy-nilly across the Web, federal prosecutors nonetheless have decided they have the time and taxpayer dollars to prosecute media outlets for doing nothing more than selling advertising to online gambling sites .

Never mind unconstitutional, unwarranted and unfair: This cockamamie scheme is dumber – and has no more chance of success – than picking a No. 16 seed to go all the way in your March Madness office pool (which by way of this government reasoning also constitutes a criminal enterprise).

Quick aside: If I have a bias here it isn’t only that advertising revenue of a different sort feeds my family. My bank just canceled my ATM/credit card because mine was among thousands of Visa account numbers stolen from BJ’s Wholesale Club . Not only did I discover this only after my neighborhood grocer rejected the card, but the days of anxiety between learning of the breach and confirming that my account hadn’t been emptied was a heck of a lot more disconcerting than the thought of people wagering from the privacy of their own Web browsers.

Federal law enforcement doesn’t see it that way.

Let’s be clear on the overriding principle here: Government ought not be deciding what you can and cannot do with your disposable income, so gambling – online or offline – should be legal, regulated and taxed.

But the applicable case law is anything but clear.

Most online gambling establishments are physically located – to the extent that location can be defined on the Internet – in countries whose officials accept the futility of prohibition. In other words, these businesses are legal where they sit, and not even the most vocal anti-gambling nags delude themselves into believing that they might go away.

So our government’s strategy, as spelled out in a front-page story in last Monday’s New York Times, takes aim at the “support services” behind offshore online gambling, including media outlets that have been selling ads to these legal companies. Because no federal law explicitly outlaws such advertising – or even gambling over the Internet, for that matter – prosecutors are leaning on an untested “aiding and abetting” theory that one might normally associate with the pursuit of gangsters. While charges have yet to be filed, media companies have had records subpoenaed and a grand jury is reportedly considering the government’s “evidence.”

A few companies already have bowed to the pressure and stopped accepting the ads, although at least two Internet heavyweights – Yahoo and Google – deserve a round of applause for refusing to cave.

“All you’re doing is taking dollars out of U.S. businesses’ pockets and pushing it offshore,” says Lawrence Walters, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment matters. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of the legal issues, check out the primer written by Walters, which you can access through, DocFinder: 1244.

But you don’t need a law degree to realize that this crusade is nuts.

“I don’t think the public is behind shutting down online gambling,” Walters says, adding that he fully expects media companies to face protracted and expensive legal fights as a result of the campaign. “People are going to be hurt just so politicians can make election-year stump speeches” about the issue.

And let’s not ignore the slippery slope here, which brings us back to those office pools. Mine is hosted by CBS the risk of ratting out my fellow conspirators, I must tell you that participants in these pools sometimes kick a buck or two into a prize pot – just to heighten interest.

Aiding and abetting a gambling operation?

Don’t laugh.

Bet you have something to say. The address is