Uncle Sam last week showed the world how he intends to protect Americans from the evils of internet wagering. Choices included regulation by the states, nationwide regulation by the feds or prohibition. Predictably, the government is taking the path of maximum coercion and bureaucratic benefit — prohibition. Consequently, the opening gambit in the Justice Department's move against the evils of gambling looked a lot like a typical day in the Drug War, or like the start of a gang war, except the other gang doesn't have guns.
American sin warriors ambushed and kidnapped the boss of a huge online sports book as he was changing planes in Dallas, Texas. In true gangland style, DOJ also grabbed a few of his relatives and business associates who made the mistake of living in the U.S.
All were charged with conspiracy and fraud for breaking an American law against taking bets over the phone. The Justice Department has also moved to extort several billion dollars in taxes it claims the company was supposed to have collected on the forbidden activity.
The busted CEO, David Carruthers, was an outspoken advocate of reasonable regulation of the gambling industry. Clearly, the DOJ also wants to confirm the wisdom of keeping your mouth shut about public policy. Carruthers admits what his company does would be a crime in the U.S.
But his company, BetonSports.com, and as many as 200 others like it, is located in Costa Rica, and therefore outside U.S. jurisdiction. If we extend the logic of Carruthers' arrest, all the thousands of employees of these companies and all of their millions of U.S. customers are criminals who should be in jail for the protection of the nation's morals.
Carruther's arrest comes just a week after the House of Representatives voted to make millions of Americans criminals. Congress passed a bill, which now awaits Senate approval, declaring internet gambling illegal. If the Senate agrees, suddenly millions of Americans who play casino games on the internet will be subject to arrest and prosecution. The bureaucratically profitable possibilities for warrantless searches, asset seizures and prison terms will jump dramatically at the stroke of a politician's pen, as will the potential for ruining innocent lives.
You would think the obvious failures of the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty and our various Wars on Penniless Peasants would warn us off a War on Gambling. That is because you do not understand the seamless bureaucratic logic of wars against sin and evil.
From the point of view of a professional sin and evil fighter, the ideal war is unwinnable. Wars that can never be won offer wonderful job security to the warriors and their support industries in the legal profession, courts and prisons. All who fight evil prosper on ever larger budgets and wildly profitable property seizures.
The prohibition of gambling, like that of drugs, is based on the idea that some who gamble will become hopelessly addicted and ruin their lives. Therefore, everyone must take the cure. And indeed, a predictable minority of gamblers will become pathologically addicted to wagering. But that will happen whether gambling is legal or not, just as drug addiction and alcoholism occur whether drugs and alcohol are legal or not.
The image we are offered to justify another sin war is a fraud. The desperate gambler wagering the kids' lunch money on one more roll of the dice misrepresents the real profile of the casino gambler. Surveys show casino customers are better educated and better off financially than the average American. In fact, the most likely place to find the desperate welfare mom squandering the grocery money is on a state-run lottery.
This is not to make light of the genuine misery caused by pathological gambling. But as with alcohol abuse, the cure is voluntary treatment, not prohibition. It's ridiculous to think compulsive gamblers won't find someplace to gamble if gambling is outlawed. Prohibition of gambling, like the prohibition of other sins, will ruin many more lives through criminal prosecution than will ever be lost to addiction.
Legally prohibiting gambling will be no more successful than other prohibitions of bad habits have been. Forbidding gambling will, however, feed parasitic enforcement organizations and ruin many more lives than it saves. Another war against sin and evil will only lead us further down the path to bureaucratic Paradise, where everything that is not prohibited is mandatory.