For the past several years it seemed the only thing coming out of Washington was hot air. Almost every speech from the Hill was aimed at scaring Americans into accepting policies that were not necessarily designed for the public good. Obviously, the online gambling rhetoric was the most concerning for people in our industry, but that was not the only social issue that had questionable logic behind it. In the area of medical research, the current Republican regime refused to consider allowing public funds for stem cell research, despite the fact that it could some day be the cure for diseases like Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis or juvenile diabetes. Pleas from individuals like Michael J. Fox, Christopher Reeves and even Nancy Reagan were waved off as irrelevant, despite the mounds of research that shows they indeed could be the building block to a cure. Instead the government chose to equate stem cell research to abortion and scare the general public into believing that women would have abortions just to create "stem field farms". Even when scientists intimated they would not use the stem cells from abortions, the current government would not listen. Surely the idea deserved more consideration than that. In the area of gay rights, the government has done everything in its power to ensure that gay people are kept behind, whether it's gay adoption, gay marriage or even extending hate crime laws to include sexual orientation. Again, any arguments which suggested it wasn't good public policy and not in the interest of Americans was met with slippery slope scenarios by the current regime, suggesting that it would lead to the destruction of the traditional family. The legalization of prostitution or medical marijuana were not even lent an ear by the government, as once again they chose to simply spread fear. If prostitution was legalized then AIDS and STDs would spread like wildfire. Marijuana is a gateway drug which would eventually cause kids to use cocaine or heroin etc. American adults have been treated as kids who could not make proper decisions for themselves and required big brother to hold their hands and tell them when and where to cross the street.
Recently, however, we have seen some common sense finally emerge from Capitol Hill in the forms of Barney Frank and Ron Paul. Even though these two gentlemen are from different sides of the aisle, the two congressmen have many similarities. The democratic representative from Massachusetts and the Republican representative from Texas both have a desire to allow American adults to think for themselves and make decisions that are in their own best interests. Barney Frank gained notoriety in the United States in the 1990s when he announced that he was gay and consequently held other gay politicians accountable when they tried to pass laws that actually opposed their own sexual orientation. Frank's position was reiterated last year in an interview he conducted after Mark Foley resigned following salacious emails with pages. In the interview Frank stated:
"I think there's a right to privacy. But the right to privacy should not be a right to hypocrisy. And people who want to demonize other people shouldn't then be able to go home and close the door and do it themselves."
This quote of course could apply to many in the Republican Party, such as Ralph Reed who set up the Christian Coalition, who of course opposes anything the church feels is evil, yet he had no trouble accepting over $1 million in donations from tribal casinos. It also could refer to someone like Tom Delay who voted with the Republicans on almost every social issue, yet has been caught in various scandals, including accepting funds from online gambling companies and Indian casinos. And most notably it could apply to Bill Frist who attached the UIGEA to a port bill, but was found by opensecrets.org to have received considerable donations from Harrah's Casino. The whole concept is reminiscent of the scene from Casablanca where Louis (the police chief) shuts down Rick's café, and when questioned by Rick as to what reason he had for doing so, Louis replies: "I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here," as he is handed his gambling winnings by a cashier from the cafe.
It's not surprising, therefore, that Barney Frank has started a campaign to repeal the UIGEA, which he called "the stupidest law ever", given that the Republican Party as well as some democrats who voted for the bill are receiving money from casinos to run their campaigns. Not to mention that the law is clearly not in the public interest. Frank originally stated in voting against the UIGEA:
"What kind of social, cultural authoritarianism are we practicing here? I think it is a great infringement on liberty. When it comes to an individual decision on how to spend your own time and money, that's not my position. That's not my business. I am skeptical of people who want to protect people from themselves."
Frank particularly took objection to the proponents of the bill that stated it had to be passed because it doesn't further the GDP of America. In that speech Frank said: "the fundamental point is this. If an adult in this country, with his or her own money, wants to engage in an activity that harms no one, how dare we prohibit it because it doesn't add to the GDP or it has no macroeconomic benefit. Are we all to take home calculators and, until we have satisfied...that we are being socially useful, we abstain from recreational activities that we choose? This Congress is well on the way to getting it absolutely backwards. In areas where we need to act together to protect the quality of our life, in the environment, in transportation, in public safety, we abstain; but in those areas where individuals ought to be allowed to make their own choices, we intervene."
As to gambling's value, Frank suggested:
"People have said, what is the value of gambling? Here is the value. Some human beings enjoy doing it. Shouldn't that be our principle? If individuals like doing something and they harm no one, we will allow them to do it, even if other people disapprove of what they do."
Of course this is all just common sense. There are many things that some people like and others don't. Yet the determination of whether it should be made illegal or not should be based on the harm it does to society, not political gain or religious dogma. In the past few weeks I tried to address many of the issues that were apparently the impetus for John Kyl introducing the law in the first place, and showed that they could be easily resolved. I also attempted to show that many of the arguments made by proponents of the law were illogical. Hopefully Barney Frank will have success with repealing the UIGEA, which in turn will lead to more constructive discussion of regulating and legalizing internet gaming. It also would immensely help Antigua in their WTO dispute.
While Frank has been a great proponent for online gambling, another name has emerged as a supporter for the online gambling industry, and surprisingly he is a member of the Republican Party. Ron Paul, a representative from Texas voted against the UIGEA and sits on many committees with Barney Frank. Paul, who describes himself as a Libertarian Republican, has come out in favor of many issues which current Republicans like George Busch, John Kyl and Bob Goodlatte oppose. In fact, his views are often so different from the current regime that the Republican Party attempted to have him defeated in 1996 by backing his Democratic challenger Greg Laughlin, and in 1998 the Republican Party of Texas tried to defeat him as well.
So what exactly is so awful about Paul, that his own party had trouble supporting him? It is the fact that, like Frank, he believes adults should be able to decide for themselves what is in their own best interests if it harms no one else. Like other Libertarians, Paul feels it's important to be conservative on procedural issues like border protection, the environment and particularly with regards to constitutional protections. But on social issues Paul believes the government has no business trying to decide what is best for the individual. One can therefore state that Paul is actually very old school Republican, and believes in ideals that were first introduced by Abraham Lincoln. It has only been in the recent past that Republicanism has been about protecting individuals from themselves in an effort to cater to evangelical teachings. In fact, most libertarians have the same thought process and feel that protection of an individual's sovereign rights to life, liberty and property are the most important rights an American has. If an act doesn't harm anyone else, then the government has no business opposing it.
Looking at Paul's voting pattern, it is clear that Paul thinks for himself and votes in a way that he feels will be in the best interest of his constituency. In the area of abortion and health care, Paul voted against funding for stem cell research (which I think was a mistake) and abortions, but voted against similar bills that would essentially make abortion a crime. He also voted against a bill that would make cloning illegal, which the rest of the Republican Party voted in favor of. While he voted against a motion that would legalize gay adoptions, he also voted against laws that would take away any constitutional changes which would forbid gay marriage. He voted against extending the Patriot Act, he voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, and in fact suggested the war on drugs, which of course has been a pet project of the current regime, has violated constitutional rights. And most notably he was one of very few Republicans who voted against the UIGEA. His complete voting record can be seen at ontheissues.org, but one thing is clear: he is not a "yes" man for any party which could be why he has been given the title of "Dr. No" on Capitol Hill. In fact, another congressman stated of him: "Ron Paul personifies the Founding Fathers' ideal of the citizen-statesman. He makes it clear that his principles will never be compromised, and they never are."
This refreshing approach by a politician was particularly noted in Paul's speech to the congress regarding the UIGEA. Unlike Barney Frank, Paul did not suggest that online gambling should be legalized because people enjoy it and it is fun. In fact, Paul stated that he considers gambling to be a stupid activity, but he added that the proposed ban goes contrary to the right to liberty. Paul stated: "while I personally think it's dumb, my own opinions are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether the act infringes on a person's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which clearly this law does." He suggested that trying to regulate the internet could lead to a precedent which would then allow governments to ban other things they don't like, and most importantly he stated that prohibition doesn't work. Paul stated that prohibition doesn't decrease the demand for the product, it just moves the product underground into the hands of criminals. All of his arguments, of course, are perfectly logical and it was exciting to hear that Paul wrote a letter to his constituents which stated that he will back Barney Frank's motion to repeal the UIGEA.
Many will suggest that Paul's comments are a plus for the industry, but are irrelevant because he is a fringe politician. The truth, however, is that Paul has stated his intention to run for the 2008 presidency, so his comments must be taken seriously. While it's unlikely Paul could win the Republican nomination against Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, a strong delegate showing could indeed send a message to the potential winners that many Republican voters in America are tired of having representatives that want to control them. Reading Christian based websites, it's notable that many of the sites don't back Giuliani or McCain because they do not have the same religious voting patterns as Bush, Frist, etc. so a strong showing by Paul at the delegation could indeed indicate to the new Republican leader that laws which ban individual freedoms like the UIGEA need to be eliminated if they stand any chance of winning the 2008 election.
As such, anyone in our industry that is a Republican delegate (or knows those who are) should strongly consider casting their vote for Ron Paul at the Republican convention. It is, after all, one of the few ways left that people in our industry can indicate how disgusted they are with the passing of the UIGEA, as well as the methods the government has used to implement a ban on online gambling, including the seizure of NETeller funds and ignoring the WTO ruling regarding Antigua. It should also be noted that Shelly Berkley, the democratic Congresswomen from Nevada, and her Republican counterpart Jon Porter are planning to introduce a bill shortly which would legalize and regulate internet gambling.
This is a trying time for the industry, but also an exciting opportunity. There seems to be a real groundswell among some politicians to revoke an unreasonable law, and try and reinstate some common sense. And with a democratic controlled congress and George Bush being shown the door next year, the average electorate can help ensure that social laws in the future are based on the public good and not on religious dogma. People in the industry can start by encouraging Republican delegates to vote for Ron Paul, and also by signing the UIGEA petition, located at:
Repeal the UIGEA
The door is open to change. Let's not let it close.