From the many emails I receive, the one question that comes up over and over is the question in the title of this article: What does online gambling have to do with terrorism? Perhaps a better question would be: "when did online gambling become linked to terrorism?" Looking at the history of the online gambling bills in the United States it seems pretty clear that terrorism was never really a concern for the online gambling bills original sponsors. Upon introducing the Gambling Prohibition Act of 1997 Kyl outlined four reasons why he wanted online gambling banned. These included: 1) concern over whether the games were fair and the offshore sites were legitimate, 2) the possibility for underage betting, 3) the concern of serious addiction, 4) and the loss of revenues to state run casinos and sports betting. Nowhere was terrorism mentioned. The following are some of the more famous quotes as to why Kyl and eventually Goodlatte and Leach wanted gambling banned:
"Harvard Medical School's Division of Addictive Studies likened the internet to new delivery forms for addictive narcotics. As smoking crack cocaine changed the cocaine experience, I think electronics is going to change the way gambling is experienced. And that is especially true with regard to youth, who are particularly at risk. (Kyl 2001)."
He also stated:
"Children can access Internet gambling sites on the family computer, wager with Mom's credit card, click the mouse and bet the house" (Kyl 1999)
Rob Goodlatte chimed in with this quote in early 2001:
"The negative consequences of online gambling can be as detrimental to the families and communities of addictive gamblers as if a bricks and mortar casino was built right next door."
I can fill pages with similar comments by the sponsors; prior to 2002 terrorism was never mentioned. In all fairness, there was the concern about money laundering expressed, but those concerns were more about tax evasion, certainly not terrorism. This was a direct quote from Kyl's office in 2001: "Gambling on the Internet provides remote access, encrypted data, and most importantly, anonymity. Because of this, a money launderer need only deposit money into an offshore account, use that money to gamble, lose a small amount of that money, and then cash out the remaining funds. Through the dual-use protection of encryption and anonymity, much of this can take place undetected."
Unfortunately for the bill's pundits, they could not get the 2/3 majority needed to pass the bill and moreover as the issue started to get more play in the media opposition to it started to grow. Media outlets and Democratic opponents like Shelley Berkley pointed out the hypocrisy and obvious protectionist aspects of equating offshore operations as evil while labelling the land based casinos offering the exact same product as legitimate. As well, much of the general public were starting to become acquainted with the pleasures and ease of offshore wagering, and in particular online poker. Thus the "family values" arguments which helped get George Bush elected became harder to sell to the public. Consequently, by 2001 it seemed inevitable that all online bills relying on using this tactic to get passage would fail.
Then came 9-11, and with it came renewed hope for the bills creators. While the world mourned for a country which saw thousands of people lose their lives in one of the most cowardly acts ever enacted on a nation, the Republican government saw this as an opportunity. On October 26, 2001 George Bush passed the PATRIOT (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act. Part of the act made it a crime to accept funds from illegal activity and the government argued that applied to online gambling. Consequently, the DOJ charged PayPal with violating the Patriot Act by processing transfers to offshore sportsbooks and casinos. Initially PayPal was prepared to fight the charges, but then decided to settle without admitting fault. Shortly thereafter, Paypal sold the business to eBay. That was the first time online gambling was linked to terrorism, but it wasn't the last. The following year in a letter on why the Republicans wanted the Democrats to ban online gambling Lawrence Lindsay wrote the following in a letter to Tom Daschle:
"Internet gambling serves as a haven for money laundering and organized crime and, potentially, for international terrorism."
It was a cheap tactic given Daschle's scare with anthrax the year prior. The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling put out a pamphlet called Destructive Economic Policies in the Age of Terrorism where they argued that online gambling would lead to money laundering by terrorists and the destruction of economies around the world. The DOJ, in conjunction with politicians who wanted online gambling banned, all of a sudden started linking online gambling to money laundering by terrorists. If anyone questioned the argument, they were reminded of the dangers of terrorism and subsequently avoided speaking out for fear of being labelled soft on terrorism. Media scrutiny of the gambling bills dwindled as well. Plus, on numerous occasions attempts were made to shove the online gambling bill into terrorism bills. It appeared in spite of this that saner minds in Congress would prevail and the bill would never get passed. Then in September of 2006 Bill Frist attempted to attach the gambling bill to the Department of Defence Authorization Bill which was a bill designed to give more money to the armed forces for their fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. The leak of Frist's plan caused him to back down. However, one month later prior to Congress convening for the mid term elections, Frist managed to attach the bill to the Safe Port Act without the provisions being discussed by Congress. The Safe Port Act was already approved by Congress, so unfortunately the attached bill was automatically approved well. It should be noted that in his speech on enacting the Safe Port Act, Bush never mentioned online gambling. Here was his direct quote:
The SAFE Port Act will build on progress and help us protect our ports in three key ways. First, the SAFE Port Act will strengthen physical security measures at our ports by helping us harness the power of technology. The bill authorizes the development of 21st century inspection equipment, so that Customs agents can check inside cargo containers for dangerous materials without having to open them. The bill also requires radiation detection technology at our 22 busiest ports by the end of next year. America has the best technology in the world, and with this bill we will apply that technology to make our ports the safest in the world.
Second, the SAFE Port Act provides legislative authority for key elements of our port security strategy. The bill codifies into law the Container Security Initiative, which we launched in 2002. Through this initiative, we have deployed American inspectors to dozens of foreign ports on five continents where they are screening cargo before it leaves for our country.
The bill also codifies into law the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a joint effort between the public and private sectors to improve cargo security. Under this partnership, private shippers agree to improve their own security measures, and in return, they can receive benefits including expedited clearance through our ports.
And the bill provides additional authority for the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which we established to guard against the threat of terrorists smuggling a nuclear device into our country.
All these efforts are smart. They're working. And with this bill, they're here to stay.
Finally, the SAFE Port Act requires the Department of Homeland Security to establish a plan to speed the resumption of trade in the event of a terrorist attack on our ports or waterways. This bill makes clear that the federal government has the authority to clear waterways, identify cleanup equipment, and reestablish the flow of commerce following a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent an attack, but if the terrorists succeed in launching an attack, we'll be ready to respond.
So what does online gambling have to do with terrorism? Terrorism was never on the minds of politicians when they attempted to ban online gambling, it just became a convenient buzz word to use by the Evangelical part of the government to inflict its morality on the American public. However, in the process they created a great disservice to all the military personnel fighting overseas, and of course to all those who lost loved ones in 9-11. With all due respect to Raymond Baker, his quote to me: "It's the ability to use any form of money laundering that can facilitate terrorists financing, which can parade as some other form of illicit proceeds... is problematic" just doesn't wash. If policies are enacted for fear of possible terrorist attacks then indeed the terrorists have won. Obviously it's important to be alert and not provoke terrorism, but if a nation sets its policies and laws based on fear of what might happen, rather than what is best, then the people of that nation lose in the long run.
Furthermore, it must be noted that the United Kingdom has not banned online gambling, but have actually endorsed it. The UK has had more terrorist attacks in its country's history than the United States has, and recently they had the subway poisoning incident. They are on Al Qaida's hit list, have far more terrorist cells operating in their country than the U.S. does and have a similar banking structure to the United States. Plus, as everyone will recall in his speech to the nation prior to attacking Iraq, George Bush stated: "America has no closer friend or ally than Great Britain". And in spite of opposition in his country, Tony Blair went to war with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly Great Britain is as concerned about terrorism as the United States is, but there was never a call to somehow link online gambling to terrorism in that country and money laundering by terrorists was never an issue despite being told so by a U.S. DOJ agent at a 2002 conference in England. And in 2006 when Britain invited the U.S. to attend a conference related to regulating online gambling, the U.S. government could have attended and reiterated their concerns about terrorism and money laundering being attributed to online gambling, but instead they essentially told their "closest friend and ally" that they weren't interested and to mind their own business. Clearly the government knew their arguments would have been seen for the sham they were by a country that was lured into a questionable war and were sceptical of anything coming out of the mouths of U.S. politicians.
So to answer the question: "What does online gambling have to do with terrorism?", just ask the U.S. government.