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Congress gambling with Internet law

First they came for the hackers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a hacker.
Then they came for the music thieves
and I did not speak out
because I never stole music.
Then they came for the software pirates
and I did not speak out
because I was not a software pirate.
Then they came for me
and by then there was
no one left to speak out for me.

– Anonymous rendition of a
famous Martin Niemöller poem

Congress’ latest attempt to legislate morality hit the fan on July 12, when the House voted 317-93 in favor of outlawing Internet wagering. The bill would also allow law enforcement to work with Internet service providers to restrain access to gaming Web sites.

The bill’s supporters say the Internet makes gambling more accessible, leading to financial problems because of gambling addictions.

Congress is fighting the wrong battle. It’s another example of a group of out-of-touch, misguided old men trying to control something they don’t understand.

Take 82-year-old Sen. Ted Stevens, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. On June 28, he referred to the Internet as a “series of tubes” and told colleagues that an “Internet was sent to his staff.”

The Internet is much more complex than Sen. Stevens and Congress realize. To regulate the Internet in any capacity is a nearly impossible task – just look at Janet Reno’s attempt in 1997. The bill’s main goal is to stop people from using credit cards to deposit money on gaming sites. However, intermediary sites, such as PayPal and NetTeller – which one can transfer money to for use on gaming Web sites – already exist and are difficult to regulate.

While the Department of Justice made a mini-statement by arresting David Carruthers, an executive at gaming Web site, gaming Web sites will still flourish – as evidenced by BETonSPORTS’ stock price, which rose 10 percent on Tuesday despite suspension of the stock.

But a more serious charge than the lack of tech-savvy octogenarians in the Senate is the bill’s exemptions for certain types of gambling.

While Congress is against online casino games, sports betting and poker, the bill still allows for online betting on horse races.

All a passage of the bill will accomplish is moving serious gamblers from poker to the ponies. If people get tired of that action, Congress conveniently left lotteries and scratch-off tickets – major sources of state revenue – off the list of deplorable online vices.

Gambling addictions are bad – anything done in excess is – but a bill banning online gambling is a misguided effort.

Gaming – both on the Internet and live – should remain what it always has been: a recreational activity which millions of people regularly and responsibly engage in with the money they earn.

If Congress spent time learning about the Internet and the games people play, perhaps it would see the chips are stacked against it on this one.