John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Rand Paul and Online Poker

Posted on May 19, 2010

Photo credit: Jamie Adams



It was interesting to go to a Ways and Means Committee meeting on the possibilities and pitfalls of online gambling in the aftermath of Rand Paul’s huge victory in Kentucky.

Paul is a libertarian, and by definition should be in favor of doing away with the prohibition of online gambling.  His father, Ron Paul, is a co-sponsor of legislation that would do just that.

Paul also has ample reason to change the current Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The law could have a negative impact on para-mutual horse race betting, an industry important to the home state of Churchill Downs.

The hearing exposed both the philosophical and practical problems with the current law.  Philosophically, as Republican primary voters are clamoring for more freedom from the federal government, this law says simply that American adults are not capable of handling the temptation of Internet gambling.

Now, that may be true for a small percentage of Americans.  And it may be true that a small percentage of Americans can’t handle the temptation of sniffing glue.  But we don’t ban glue because of those fateful few whom have decided that sniffing it is the best use of glue.  Nor should we use the resources of the federal government to throw people in jail because they want to play poker in their own homes.

Some Republicans (and some Democrats) think that the government has to protect the people from their own actions.  This strain of American thought has been with us since the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  When the Puritans sailed over the pond, they too had an irrational fear that somebody, somewhere, was having a good time, and that having a good time was not in line with what God wanted.

To be fair, though, this law isn’t about adults having merely a good time; it is about adults having too good of a time, and losing their life savings in the meantime.  One representative told a sad story about an on-line gambler who lost so much money playing poker that he lost his house, and then took his own life as a result.  If I lost my house playing cards, I assure you I wouldn’t take my own life.  My wife would take care of that for me.

Philosophically speaking, it makes no sense to ban an activity for all adults because of the abuse of that activity by a small percentage of those adults.  It didn’t work for Prohibition, it doesn’t work for pot-smoking, and it hasn’t worked for on-line poker.  And why should we want it to work.  The government should get out of the business of telling people how to live their lives.  What ever happened to freedom?

Practically speaking, such prohibition also doesn’t work.  An American ban on Internet poker only makes it easier for overseas companies to reap the benefits.  We are not China.  We don’t block our Internet like the Chinese do.  If somebody wants to play poker on-line, they are going to play poker on-line.  Why should we let foreigners dominate the market if American companies want to get in the game?  These companies would not only be easier to regulate and to tax, they would also be housed here, so they would be hiring American workers and bringing in revenue for the American treasury.

In fact, according to some estimates, by making Internet gambling legal, the federal treasury could bring in more than 40 billion dollars.  That is real money.  It doesn’t exactly balance the budget, but hey, every buck counts these days.

The Republican Party has traditionally been hostile to the idea of Internet gambling.   They were the ones who pushed to ban it in the first place.  But the election of Rand Paul could be a sign from Republican voters that they want more freedom and less government control over their lives.  That would be a nice change of pace.