In Tuesday's midterm election, if there was one GOP loss that most gamblers were applauding it had to be that of the Iowan congressman Jim Leach. While Jon Kyl championed the cause of banning internet gambling in the Senate, there was very little interest in the cause at the House of Congress until Jim Leach decided to introduce H.R. 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2005. The bill, of course, was geared to make it illegal to use credit in funding internet wagering (except horse racing, lotteries and some forms of tribal gaming), and was the bill which was attached to the Safe Port Bill which caused public companies to close shop and stop catering to the U.S. market. So who, exactly, was this self righteous man that decided it was so important to tell Americans what they should be doing with their money?
Jim Leach was elected to Congress in 1977 and served until his defeat yesterday. According to his biography, Leach is very well educated and owns up to $14 million in stocks, mutual funds and farmland. Of course none of these stocks would be speculative now, would they? After all, speculating on the stock market has been equated to gambling, but that's another story. Unlike Bill Frist, who is about as right wing as one can be and is clearly guided by his warped views of right and wrong, it appears Leach is quite liberal. He voted against his party regarding the Iraq war, he voted against any abortion ban and he supports stem cell research. So if Leach isn't a typical conservative and doesn't feel he is on a mission from God as George Bush has declared that he is, then why exactly was this congressman so eager to enforce his beliefs on the American public? The answer is best found by the pretentious ramblings in an article on his own website. The first paragraph of the article states:
"In its last act before adjourning, Congress enacted the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Passage of the measure, which is designed to stem the growth of gambling on the Internet, caps a multi-year effort by Congressman Jim Leach to protect American families."
How very interesting. Leach introduced the bill to "protect" American families. The man has no problem with the concept of abortion on demand, but by God no family will gamble on the internet if he has anything to say about it. Without a doubt, if Americans were asked what the biggest threat to the family is today they would cite things like domestic violence, divorce, hunger and the like. It's highly unlikely that internet gambling would even crack the top 50 list. But when a child is subjected to a messy divorce, at least they'll be comforted in knowing that mommy and daddy didn't play a hand of online poker before the trial.
The third paragraph on the page cited above reads:
"'It is extraordinary how many American families have been touched by large losses from Internet gambling,' Leach said .'As a professor of business at the University of Illinois has noted, the Internet is 'crack cocaine' for gamblers. 'There are no needle marks,' he says. 'There is no alcohol on the breath. You just click the mouse and lose your house.'"
Oh, really? So how many people have actually lost their house by internet gambling? Clearly it must be an astronomical number for Leach to make such a public statement. I personally clicked 20 versions of the phrase "lost their house because of internet gambling" into Google and Yahoo and couldn't come up with one instance. It may have happened, but I can't find any. Mind you, when I typed in "lost their house because of casino gambling" there were indeed some instances of people who lost everything from gambling at local brick and mortar casinos. Of course this is excusable since brick and mortar casinos don't harm the family. These bastions of what is good in America bring out the best in families, such as children being left in cars in casino parking lots, prostitution, etc. And as for needle marks, it's ironic that every casino now has sharps containers in the bathrooms.
Reading further down the page in his diatribe, Leach states:
"Internet gambling's characteristics are unique. Never has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age. The casino is in effect brought to the home, office and college dorm. Children may play without verification, and betting with a credit card can undercut a player's perception of the value of cash, which too easily leads to bankruptcy and crime."
So let's get this straight: According to Leach, betting with a credit card undercuts the perception of the value of cash and hence must be avoided. If that's the case then why is he only concerned with gambling? I searched various blogs of debt counselors to see what they believe the biggest problem is. The answer unanimously was that people don't know how to handle their credit cards. People dig themselves into debt and because of the usurious interest charged by credit card companies they are always paying interest on those cards. However, in reading the blogs there was not a single mention of gambling. Instead it appears that the people who are usually most heavily in debt tend to spend it on the necessities of life like groceries, clothing and gas. It's not the people who use Visa or MasterCard that are in dire straights, but rather those with department store, supermarket and gas credit cards. Those companies gladly hand out these cards with little regard to whether the person can pay them, because of the interest rates which generally run north of 25% per annum. Of course their credit departments are also the most aggressive in ensuring people meet the minimum payment. It seems that maybe the fact that so many American families aren?t making enough to meet the necessities of life that is the bigger issue facing the family today and the credit cards are a lifeline. And while it's true that credit distorts a person's perception of the value of cash, especially when paying 25% interest, I suppose if someone's child is hungry or needs diapers that perception isn't unreasonable. And, the last time I checked, there were no online gaming companies that were willing to take JC Penny or Sunoco credit cards as payment.
Leach later states:
"In my old hometown of Davenport this past summer, two young men from middle-class families who attended college in Iowa got so far behind in their Internet gambling losses that they decided to rob a series of homes. From one they took cigars and golf clubs but were thoughtful enough not to pinch the Heisman trophy in the bookcase. They were caught when they advertised Johnny Lujack's golf clubs online. Now these young men face the prospect of prison rather than graduation."
That type of statement seems to be one that the Republicans are great at - taking one extreme example and pretending it is the norm. George Bush uses anecdotal evidence in every State of the Nation address, citing one instance of something that supports his cause and thus suggesting that for that reason the cause is noble and justifies any actions taken as a result of it. Well in my home town, I know of at least five hundred people who gamble online and commit no crimes. The United States has 300 million people, of which a few million probably gamble online. While there may be one or two instances of people who get in over their heads and commit crimes, that fact in itself is no reason to stop the whole industry. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everything was governed to cater to the actions of one or two malcontents? Should Europe put an end to all soccer matches because a few British fans went crazy and became violent after getting drunk at the matches? Should tailgate parties be stopped forever because, on rare occasions, fans get out of control during them and become violent and aggressive? I know of a young man from a middle class family who became an alcoholic and ended up panhandling and eventually stealing to support his alcohol habit. That doesn't mean because of this one person alcohol should be prohibited. And there are hundreds of thousands like him, unlike the very few cases of severe debt from internet gambling. But I guess alcoholism isn't a concern for the self righteous Mr. Leach.
Moving further down the page, Leach states:
"If Congress had not acted, gamblers would soon be able to place bets not just from home computers, but from their cell phones while they drive home from work or their Blackberries as they wait in line at the movies."
Dear God, no! Betting on a Blackberry? Or home computers? Or while in line at the movies? What a heinous thing! It's much better that people go immediately home to their computers to surf porn or look at some buffoon make an ass of himself on YouTube. And as for the movies, you certainly don't want to break someone's concentration as they wait in line to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 or You, Me and Dupree. After all, fine wholesome family movies like those need one?s undivided attention. Let's face it, if someone is allowed to take their minds off the task at hand while in line at a movie they may go rob a series of homes and/or pinch a Heisman Trophy.
Finally, Leach's site states:
"Indeed, if an individual cannot repay his or her credit card debts, neighbors will be subject to higher interest rates. Everyone loses if this industry continues its remarkable growth trends."
For once, a statement I can agree with. If an individual cannot repay his credit card debts, neighbors will be subject to higher interest rates. Unfortunately for Leach, as stated earlier, debt counselors agree that it is not online gambling on Visa, Mastercard or American Express that is the problem, but rather the high interest store cards which are handed out like candy. Besides that, Visa and Mastercard have already essentially cut off their cards for the purpose of online wagering. At the beginning of his website page cited above, Leach stated that he introduced the bill to protect families. It seems that if Leach really wanted to do something to protect the family he should be going after store credit cards, usurious interest rates and deal with issues of violence, poverty and perhaps look at reasons for the high divorce rates in his country. Of course doing that would actually take some effort, and this anti gambling crusade is an easy smokescreen.
The Republicans have made a lot of questionable decisions since 2001 and on Tuesday paid the price for it. Fortunately, Americans saw fit to bounce the republicans out of power. It's about time Americans demanded the government do what they were elected to do - serve in the best interest of the majority of American citizens. The gambling ban will do nothing to solve the problems facing American families today, all it succeeded in doing was wiping out billions of dollars that people had invested in the stock market. Not to worry though, none of Leach's $13 million in stocks was with Party Gaming, Sportingbet or Betcorp so his portfolio won't get hurt. You won't be missed, Mr. Leach. Goodbye and good riddance.