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Bet on the Internet winning this one

May 12, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsManufacturing Industry

As with so many politicians, Rep. Jim Leach hasn’t absorbed the first thing about what makes the Internet a valuable resource.

Despite possessing a libertarian streak that’s widening over time, Buzz doesn’t get all knee-jerky in opposing new government regulation, even when politicians start messing with the Internet.

No, it’s only the asinine kind of government regulation that gets me spittin’ bits.

Take last week’s news that a subcommittee within the House Judiciary Committee approved on a voice vote – the kind lawmakers use when they don’t want to be held accountable – a bill that would attack offshore Internet gambling in two ways. The first would force ISPs to delete links to gambling sites – a proposition that needs to be called what it is: government censorship and virtually impossible to enforce. The second prong would compel credit card companies and online payment systems such as PayPal to rat out customers they suspect might be paying gambling tabs – a proposition that ought to have online privacy advocates storming the halls of Congress.

Let’s be clear for those who haven’t experienced me ranting about this before: All forms of gambling should be legal, regulated and taxed. Free-market forces and legitimate zoning concerns should dictate the number of gambling establishments in the physical world, not misplaced paternalistic instincts and the power of governments to shield monopolistic state lotteries and Indian-run casinos from competition. In cyberspace, only the free market is needed.

Please spare me your entreaties about compulsive gamblers. I’m related to one (he’s doing fine now, thank you). Just as with alcoholics and butt fiends, we should get these unfortunate people help, and make the industry that profits from their misery foot the bill. (I never claimed to be a strict libertarian.)

Repeat after me: Prohibition just doesn’t work, never has worked and never will.

But this won’t stop prohibitionist politicians from trying.

“The very characteristics that make the Internet such a valuable resource are also the reasons why it has such a huge potential to impinge on the stability of the American family, American financial institutions and our national security,” Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) said earlier this year in touting his bill.

What a bunch of red, white and blue horse-pucky. As with so many politicians, Leach hasn’t absorbed the first thing about what makes the Internet a valuable resource. As for the idea that American families are strengthened by lawmakers dictating to them how they can and cannot spend their disposable income, someone will need to explain to me how that qualifies as “conservative” thinking from a leading Republican. The nonsense about financial institutions and – give me a break – national security, ought to embarrass even a congressman practiced in the art of hyperbole.

The hypocrisy of this stuff is mind-numbing. (Which reminds me: What does William Bennett think about the virtues of Internet gambling?)

As we speak, there are 10 gambling boats licensed to operate in Rep. Leach’s home state of Iowa, as well as three racetracks and three casinos. These businesses raked in about $1 billion last year, and, since Iowa isn’t exactly an international tourist attraction, I’m going to presume most of that loot came from stable American families. Iowa also has a state lottery, of course, with 139 outlets just in Des Moines, a city of fewer than 200,000 inhabitants.

In other words, an Iowan cannot step outside of his or her home without stepping into a cornfield or a gambling establishment.

So why on earth should the government keep those same people from gambling in the privacy of their own Web browsers?

The columnist is headed off on vacation, which will include a day trip to his favorite casino. In the meantime, you can send e-mail about this tirade to