Washington -- America's 70 million poker players say they aren't bluffing in their resistance to the latest congressional efforts to ban online casino gambling.
To dramatize that determination, their leader, San Franciscan Michael Bolcerek -- president of the national Poker Players Alliance -- staged some most unusual events on Capitol Hill Tuesday. He brought three big-name professional poker stars to court the press, lobby with members of Congress and attend an evening reception for members and their staffs at which a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em were probably played. Not for money, of course.
Congress is considering legislation that seeks either to get banks to block customers' transactions with overseas Internet gambling sites or force Internet service providers to block access to poker Web sites. Poker players say the proposed bans attack nothing less than the American way of life.
"I'd hate for 70 million poker players to wake up one day and learn that their game has been made illegal,'' said pro Howard Lederer, who with his sister Annie Duke forms a sister-brother pro duo in a sport that has become a TV staple the last few years.
As has been discussed here, not only does it ban online gambling, it also bans linking to sites where online gambling takes place. And not only that, but the bill requires financial institutions to set up invasive (and, most say, impossible to implement) mechanisms to track every financial transaction you make. Particularly bothersome are ACH transactions, the favored method of payment at most gaming sites. ACH transactions leave a more generic paper trail than credit card transactions. For banks to get to the point where they could track these kinds of transactions would require a level of familiarity and intimacy with your buying habits that ought to make all but the most ardent police-staters skittish. One gaming industry rep describes the requirement as "know your customer on steroids."
In addition to the privacy concerns, there are also more general concerns about deputizing private businesses to start monitoring and policing the activities of their customers. We got into this mess, of course, with money laundering laws. Now we're seeing the same M.O. applied to Internet gambling. I wouldn't be surprised to see it soon applied to porn sites, too.
And then there are the compliance costs. Why should banks, credit card companies, and cash transfer companies be forced to foot the bill for Rep. Goodlatte's moral crusades? The answer, of course, is that the government simply can't police the Internet without deputizing private corporations to do its dirty work. Goodlatte's prohibited by the Constitution from monitoring what you do online. But he can certainly hold your bank responsible for not adequately monitoring how you spend your money. So that's what he'll do.
What's so disingenuous about the proposed legislation (bizarrely trumpeted as lobbying reform) is that all the monied domestic interested - state lotteries, casinos, Indian tribes, horse racing, etc. managed to get themselves excluded. Gambling, in one form or another, is allowed in nearly every state in the union - often sponsored by the state; yet we've driven the online gaming industry overseas. One could argue whether that is good or bad thing, but there's no arguing that the opportunity cost of the potential to tax that industry is staggering.