A measure of good news has emerged from the halls of Congress. Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.) has introduced a bill which would facilitate a year-long study of internet gambling by the National Academy of Sciences . . . with special emphasis upon how other major gaming nations have managed their established, legal gaming entities, given the current technological wizardry available (with Britain being Exhibit A), as well as considering the subsequent effects of last fall's passed-by-stealth Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Given the bill's broad sponsorship, and the Democratic congressional majority, expect this bill to "get legs" and pass the House, without undue strain. Prominent sponsors include Barney Frank (already a pivotal player in the sector, with his Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007 already in the hopper), Frank LoBiondo (Atlantic City's congressman, from Jersey's second district), and Michigan's John Conyers, long an advocate of mature examination and consideration of this sticky topic.
The National Academy of Sciences is an elite group, dedicated largely to science, engineering, and medicine. With domestic membership a couple of thousand strong at present, the group's been an established force for over 140 years. Based in D. C., its current president is an atmospheric chemist, Ralph J. Cicerone, out of Cal-Irvine.
You surely can't fault the high-wattage brainpower on tap, though it will be interesting to watch the proceedings develop, as such a collection of eggheads contemplates a pastime which sets off such pronounced reactions in the pleasure centers of the brains of tens of millions of more common folk. But the technological sophistication of many within the NAS would seem to portend a constructive, adult approach - unlike the protectionist jive/GOP base-pandering which generated the UIGEA.
All fine and dandy . . . but there remains dirty work to be defused, as the Bad Guys (in gaming enthusiasts' eyes) remain gung-ho in their zeal to batten down the hatches regarding UIGEA's implementation details, to be finalized later this spring. The DOJ's broad posture towards the industry has not been encouraging for proponents of freedom-in-entertainment-choice, and to be consistent in their purported worldviews, the Barney Franks of the world need to be vigilant and strident in their sincere opposition to making a bad law (the UIGEA) even worse. Malicious, overreaching enforcement methodologies would be wholly out of step with the spirit of the current composition of Congress (reflecting, as it does, the most-current expression of the will of the American electorate), and given Rep. Frank's long-time expressed contempt for the very idea of the UIGEA, look for him to remain in the forefront of the Loyal Opposition.
The timing of a broad, reasoned discussion of national issues related to legalized gambling is a positive good. The James Dobson-style/yahoo panderers still maintain their respective grips on some of the critical levers of power, and the White House/DOJ conduit remains a constant, but the lame-duck Commander in Chief and his cronies are on their way out, and the '06 congressionals and the current opinion polls indicate just where they stand - far afield of the national mental mainstream.
Frank's current proposed Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act will serve as a discussion platform, though it has scant chance of passing the Senate, and the probability that the sitting President would ever sign it hovers near Ground Zero. The granting of individual sports leagues the right to opt out of any national sports-wagering plan essentially flips the bird to that entire sector, leaving dedicated practitioners to fend for themselves.
Regrettably, government's view of gambling is skewed by the volume enjoyed by state lotteries, institutions largely patronized by the mathematically ignorant -- and the desperate. For those groups, bucking a 50% take in return for potential pie-in-the-sky returns is worth the percentage insult. For the serious gambler, it's a ludicrous joke. The Feds get 0.25% of Nevada sportsbook volume . . . found money. For government to attempt to coax much more out of such low-vig games as sports, casino craps and video-poker featuring reasonable pay scales is setting yourself up for disappointment. For any government sanctioned forays into such areas, the online games will have to offer competitive play-value. Given that, there's plenty of money for the government to take in, and plenty of jobs. But smart players know what "a good game" is, and won't settle for less. Hopefully, temperate legislation discussion will lead to eventual legislative post-Bush success, as legislators' sophistication regarding this topic flourishes. One can only hope.