Prohibition Is Back Again

13 May 2006


Lazlow 05/11/2006 11:55 am

Evidently there’s some fancy knock-twice secret-password poker parlor in New York City, because a friend invited me to come play. Texas has caused a lot of problems in the last few years, but the virus of Texas Hold ‘em ranks up there with other fine Texas traditions, such as executing the mentally handicapped and covering your ears and yelling “la-la-la-la” at pictures of Antarctica melting. Commercials for poker websites are all over television and radio, with tournaments seemingly every day at casinos, on cruise ships and in many cases, in the backrooms of bars.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft launched the first Jesus jihad against online gambling. Commercials for gambling were forbidden. But gambling websites simply began promoting sister sites where you can “learn to play poker.” Once you’ve learned, there’s a handy link right there to an offshore-based poker server where your lunch can be lost, one river or flop at a time.

Gambling online is now a several billion dollar business. I have friends who play online, competing in tournaments, winning $100 occasionally. I’m far too busy at night playing Quake online to get into poker, and truth be told, it looks far more entertaining chasing people you don’t know with a rocket launcher than trying to take their money.

Congress has launched a response to poker: the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. Approved by a House subcommittee, this legislation would make it a federal crime to gamble over the Internet. The punishment? Five years in prison. It’s always nostalgic to put the word “prohibition” in a law. Prohibition worked so well with alcohol (and yet another campaign from the pulpit). Marijuana prohibition has been going swimmingly, with federal troops arresting dying cancer patients.

The prohibition on online gambling is a change to the Wire Act, which was passed by Congress in the 1960s, making it illegal to place gambling wagers over the telephone. This was to curtail sports wagers, and with great results. It’s nearly impossible to walk into any bar in America and buy boxes before the Super Bowl.

And like anything at all that Congress attempts these days, what legislation would be complete without someone standing up, putting on a pout face and gravely invoking 9/11 and terrorism? Yes, the banking industry has testified for the law, saying that monitoring payment transactions drains resources from monitoring for terrorists. Actually, American banks are jealous. Many offshore gambling sites set up accounts for players in offshore banks where regulators can’t seize their assets. So billions of untaxed wagers are going offshore and corporate banks aren’t making millions on it, so Congress is working to put poker players in prison.

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