In the 1996 Halloween episode of The Simpsons, two aliens kidnap Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and steal their identities the week prior to the national election. The aliens are hoping that as rulers of the country they can use the American citizens to advance their own agendas. Just prior to the election, Homer rips the Dole and Clinton masks off the aliens and exposes them for who they really are. One of the aliens, Kang, responds as follows:
"It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us."
Without question, many Americans are feeling just that way. The current list of candidates do not exude excitement from the public, and following the disastrous two terms of George W. Bush, many are skeptical about politics in general. This feeling is especially true among those in the gambling community.
For this article I spoke to more than 30 people involved in all aspects of gambling, both online and land-based. I conversed with bookmakers, poker site CEOs, gambling lobby groups, gambling watchdog site owners, gambling magazine and newspaper publicists, lawyers representing gambling companies, gambling prognosticators and one high level individual for a land-based Nevada casino that someday hopes to be able to operate online.
While I tried to gauge all their viewpoints, I was most interested in who they felt would be the best candidate for the gambling industry. Consequently, I asked them each the same questions as follows: What qualities did a candidate need to possess to support the needs of the gambling community? Which candidate did they believe would be best for the future of online gambling in the U.S. and/or offshore, who would be the worst, and why? My goal was to conduct an informal focus group in an effort to determine what many in the online gambling community feel are the real issues in this election that have to be addressed if there is any chance for online gambling to succeed in the future. Clearly none of the candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, has indicated an eagerness to overturn the UIGEA, or for that matter even address the issue of online gambling. Many of the people I spoke to have connections to Washington, so their opinions on what may be implied, but not been stated, by the candidates could prove significant. For the sake of the article, I asked them to key on the candidates with a real chance of winning, namely Clinton, Obama, Edwards, McCain, Guiliani, Huckabee and Romney. I also assured them that there would be nothing attributed to anyone directly in the article, and all names would remain confidential. By doing so it would ensure everyone could speak freely without fear of repercussions.
Before revealing the feedback from the questions, I must first acknowledge that gambling is not priority one right now on any American's list. With a controversial and bloody war in Iraq, the threat of war in Iran, a crumbling economy with a warning of a major slowdown this year by the Fed, a health care system that was recently rated the worst in the industrialized world, a dollar that has lost over 50% of its value in the last two years globally, a mounting deficit, severe crime and drug issues in schools and a growing discrepancy between the poor and the rich in the United States, whether or not one can gamble online is not a paramount issue. At the same time, other special interest groups continue to push their agendas and try to be heard despite the stated U.S. problems, so the gambling lobby and interests have just as much right to try and be heard. Besides, gambling is one avenue that could actually help generate revenue for the states that can be used to address issues such as health care and drug addiction. All but two states already sponsor gambling by ways of lotteries and/or land based casinos, so it is not as if the suggestion that gamblers should be able to wager online is attacking sacred cows. It must also be noted that while those contacted have strong opinions, their viewpoints should not be taken as the end all and be all. Now on to the results.
Among those contacted, the overwhelming opinion was that a democratic victory would be best for the online gambling industry going forward. That sentiment was actually unanimous. In fact, with the exception of Ron Paul, whom I mentioned wasn't being considered as a serious candidate, not one Republican candidate was deemed by anyone as the best option for the online industry. The reason for this seems pretty clear. The past two terms have seen a Republican agenda that has taken direct aim at the online gambling industry. Since the time George Bush was elected, several members of the Republican party have tried to pass one anti-gambling bill after another, and even when those bills were voted down, other Republicans (some believe at the urging of Bush himself) came forward with new, even more contentious bills. All the while, the religious right, with sites like Focus on the Family, were urging the Republicans to get even tougher on gambling and "other social ills" to protect "traditional family values." If any Republican candidate is prepared to sever ties with the religious lobbyists and try and pass bills strictly based on fairness and not "values," they certainly haven't indicated that. As one of the respondents stated to me, "It seems whenever a controversial issue comes up such as gambling, stem cell research or prayer in school, the Republicans are immediately there to preach the evils of that issue. Listening to the Republicans vote on those issues is like listening to a preacher in church."
The Democrats, on the other hand, do not have the same philosophy and tend not to be influenced by he same "moral" concerns. Instead, the party platform concerns itself with fairness and freedom of speech and religion. One of the people I spoke to stated, "I have no idea if the Democrats will support our initiative, but I guarantee you the Republicans won't."
When asked about what they see as the important issues and who they support, three common themes were iterated. These themes were: freedom of speech via the internet, willingness to stick to agreements and fairness/open-mindedness/compassion.
Freedom of Speech on Internet
The first issue that most identified as paramount in this election is the candidate's views on internet freedom. In fact, over half of those I spoke to mentioned technology, and particularly the internet, as the key issue that must be addressed before they'll cast a vote or throw their support to a candidate. It's notable that none of those I spoke to mentioned gambling on the internet as the primary issue, because they all realize that issue is a non-starter. No candidate is going to come out as the champion of internet gambling because it isn't an issue that will score them any points in the election. Sure, there are some Americans that have a real issue with online gambling, and others for whom online gambling legalization of it is of paramount importance, but the vast majority of Americans couldn't care less about online gambling. On the other hand, internet freedom is an issue that will resonate with a large percentage of Americans. Many view the ability to surf the net without fear of big brother looking over their shoulders as an issue of free speech. Facebook, My Space and the like is considered personal space by many, and therefore none of the government's business. More importantly, many Americans feel that any restrictions placed on the internet will curb innovation and technology/software advancement. When iMEGA chose to sue the federal government for its passing of the UIGEA, they noted that gambling itself wasn't their chief concern. Their concern was the precedent that was set when a government is allowed to control a form of media. iMEGA's website states the following:
iMEGA maintains that growth and innovation is possible by continued adherence to the founding principles of the world's online communities, and that openness and freedom will enable the Internet to become a means for citizens in national and global economies to raise standards for all who are touched by it.---www.imega.org
Needless to say, that is a principal that most Americans can relate to. If you tell someone in New York that a certain candidate won't allow them to bet on the web, chances are they'll shrug. If, on the other hand, they are told that voting for a certain candidate may someday mean that news sites will be blocked, filters will be put on library research computers and freedom of expression about controversial issues will be banned on blogs, that could very well cause them to get upset. For the gambling community, once it is established that internet freedom is essential, then online gambling lobbyists can approach congress once again and demand that nothing be restricted, including internet gambling, as a matter of fairness. That tact may not work, but if a candidate doesn't believe in freedom of the internet, then the online gambling lobby has no shot.
On that issue the respondents seemed to feel that Hillary Clinton was the candidate that was the most likely to champion the cause. The response seemed a bit surprising to me since the first online gambling lawsuits were issued under Bill Clinton's administration, but after doing some research I am less surprised. Senator Clinton was a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act and made the following comments to cnet news.com:
I am an original co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, and I supported its reintroduction. No other communications medium in recent history has had such a profound impact as the Internet on free expression, education, the proliferation of commerce, and the exchange of political ideas. And it is the basic principles of neutrality and nondiscrimination that have allowed the Internet to flourish.
Thanks to these principles, a small business has been able to market to the same customers as the biggest corporation. The average citizen has been able to voice grievances in the same forum as the editors of the largest newspaper. And students, entrepreneurs, and consumers have been empowered by the wealth of information and opportunities afforded by an open Internet.
As we continue to build on the innovations brought forth by the Internet, we must ensure that there continues to be open, unimpaired, and unencumbered Internet access for both its users and content providers. We need to ensure that the Internet of the 21st century opens the same doors, creates the same opportunities, and fosters the same innovation that we have seen so far.---http://www.news.com/Technology-Voters-Guide-Hillary-Clinton/2100-1028_3-6224039.html
Without question, this is the type of attitude that online gamblers need for the future of the industry, regardless of her personal stance on gambling itself.
Among the other candidates, Barack Obama was also seen as someone who would stand up for internet freedom. In a statement to the same site as mentioned for Hillary clinton, Obama stated the following:
I will protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity, and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.---http://www.news.com/Technology-Voters-Guide-Barack-Obama/2100-1028_3-6224109.html?tag=item
It seems to those that I spoke to, either candidate would be good for ensuring internet freedom. However, none of the respondents were confident that any Republican would adhere to the idea of free speech on the internet. While no Republicans have actually stated that they don't believe in internet freedom, the actions and voting patterns of the Republicans that are in contention speak loud enough. As well, John McCain, (and possibly Rudi Giuliani) who is probably the most centrist of those in contention, has tried to pass legislation to make blogging fall under the same restrictions as an ISP. McCain also wants to put filters on all computers at schools and libraries to ensure that no one can access sites that the Republicans deem as unsavory.
It should be noted that no one mentioned John Edwards as being good or bad in this regard, likely because they aren't sure of his stance on the issue. In any case, John Edwards is probably not a serious contender to receive the Democratic nomination.
The bottom line on this issue is that all respondents deemed that internet freedom was paramount to the future of the industry, and that only with a Democratic President is there a chance that the freedom to gamble online will ever be considered.
In Part II, I will cover the issues of willingness to stick to agreements and fairness/open-mindedness/compassion.
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