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Kyl-ing Us Softly, With His Song (And Dance): Hypocrisy In Gaming Legislation...By Nelson Lardner

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is widely credited to have circulated within the United States Senate in recent days an unsigned letter, addressed to President Bush, regarding the working details to be finalized regarding last fall's Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

Literally anonymous, said letter has gained wide circulation on gaming websites. The meat of the matter is contained in the second paragraph - vital reading, given that the finishing touches regarding the implementation of this legislation are to be installed this spring:

"Any progress made over the last several months may evaporate if immediate action is not taken to ensure strong and effective implementing regulations. The House Financial Services Report explained, 'The legislation contemplates a mechanism whereby banks and other financial service providers will be provided with the identity of specific Internet gambling bank accounts to which payments are to be prohibited.' In other words, the Federal government needs to provide banks with lists of unlawful Internet gambling businesses."

There is unintended hilarity, therein. Rep. Barney Frank (4th - MASS) is currently the Chairman of the House Financial Services committee, and holds the UIGEA in low regard, enacted as it was in the dead of night, attached to an unrelated must-pass Port Security bill by Sen. Bill Frist, a politician with dashed presidential delusions, regardless driven to kowtow to his Christian-right base.

Frist has since departed the Senate, as has one of the House sponsors of the bill, Iowa's Jim Leach (the former House Financial Services committee chairman), who was unceremoniously voted out of office after a thirty-year run. Get the picture? For forever, this legislation was a huge underdog to pass both U.S. legislative houses on its own, following any semblance of open debate. This makes the statement in the fourth paragraph of this now notorious letter, to wit: "We renew our request that you ensure that law enforcement and regulatory personnel commit the resources needed to identify illegal Internet gambling businesses and give the new law THE TEETH THAT CONGRESS INTENDED IT TO HAVE (emphasis ours)", ludicrous. Please. That statement failed to pass the veracity test, at the time - and it's even more out of touch now, given the current legislative paradigm. Elections do have consequences.

It was noted in the first paragraph of the letter under discussion that related companies (all based OUTSIDE the U. S.) traded on the London exchange lost over $7 BILLION in market capitalization in a single day following the bill's passage. One wonders just how many major stock market players - many of them no doubt significant GOP contributors - were amused by the passage of this legislation and the subsequent evisceration of share values of companies deeply-involved in the net-gaming business? Unless you had information, and were on the short side . . .

Sen. Kyl has been repeatedly quoted to the effect that "a professor once appropriately likened Internet gambling to cocaine use."

Come, now. From the bluenose, religious-right perspective, gambling's an unmitigated evil. But the UIGEA gives off more than a whiff of stateside protectionism, sheltering as it does certain sacred cows - many of them with a significant U.S. (and, prominently, Arizona) presence - while also looking ahead to the possible participation of major American corporate gaming presences in a legalized environment.

Let's see -- just what kind of legalized-gaming entertainment can you sink your wallet into around Arizona's highways? Quite a varied menu, actually.

Thoroughbred racing: Turf Paradise. Been there. Nice place, as racetracks go.

Greyhound racing: Phoenix Greyhound Park. Been there. Set in the midst of a handful of trailer parks. Cheap eats!

Indian casinos: Have peeked inside one of these, as well, and I'm far from the only one. Arizona's tribal-casino empire is sized third in the country, behind those serving the folks visiting California and Connecticut properties.

The Arizona Lottery: Chrono-moronic entertainment for rank suckers with no conception and/or regard for the gross percentages working against them. But, hey, you don't have to play, and the state lottery provides jobs for many -- and essentially-voluntary contributions to state coffers. Revenues have amounted to a fat nine figures over the years.

And we've yet to mention a pet Kyl cause, fantasy sports games, an internet favorite, and also exempted within the UIGEA's strictures. And if you don't think millions of folks don't dedicate serious time - and fee-money, plus any risk-money earmarked for league winners - to their fantasy-league teams, I have a nice bridge to sell you.

The pari-mutuel interests, those operating the Indian games of chance, the leagues which benefit from all that fantasy-league focus - all cough up the cake, in the form of significant campaign contributions.

Sen. Kyl would do a public service by being much more specific regarding just what's crack cocaine, and what isn't.

Overindulgence in any vice is not good. Controlled gaming can be wholly entertaining, while gently scratching an itch. It's past time for Rep. Frank and his like-minded colleagues to have their innings, while looking to minimize detrimental effects of a bad law, one passed under the cover of darkness. The time is now for congressional re-evaluation of the concept of broad legalization loosely based on the Nevada model . . . discussion untainted by contributor's checks and broadly-unpopular stances fuelled solely by political motivations most-crass.

The extensive 2003 research report, "Gambling and Problem Gambling In Arizona" (easily accessible online) contains the following gem, on page iv:

"Problem gamblers in Arizona in need of services are most likely to gamble regularly on the lottery and at a casino."

You want to talk about crack cocaine? Right in Arizona's backyard?

Let's. And while we're at it, keep the one about glass houses and stones in mind.

Nelson Lardner

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