- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

Freedom is a difficult thing to uphold because it requires both voluntary restraint and tolerance of a host of rights of other people. Tolerating rights that some people find offensive and even harmful often proves too difficult for Congress, which responds to public pressures. One such vice Congress may soon subject to coercion restrain is Internet gambling. A bill prohibiting any Internet site from allowing Americans to gamble, under penalty of four years of imprisonment and a $20,000 fine, will soon be coming up for a vote in the House. It's a bill that should not be allowed to become law.

Congress should not legislate on Internet gambling for five reasons. First, gambling on the Internet is potentially dangerous, but as of yet has not been proven harmful. The clearest potential victims on the Internet are children, but here the harm is not clear. Children don't have the credit cards and other bank cards necessary to spend money over the Internet which is one reason why courts have allowed adult-only Web sites to use credit cards to verify the age of users.

Second, gambling on the Internet is not as dangerous as gambling at a casino. The other group of victims often defended in law is the set of people in society that need to be protected from themselves in this case compulsive gamblers. But computers allow for more protections than the casino floors. ATM cards have daily limits and credit cards can likewise be limited. Casinos are also designed for people to lose track of time (just try to find a clock or a window in a casino), so people gamble for longer periods of time. Odds are that the longer a person spends in a casino the more money that person will lose. At home the gambler isn't given free drinks and can be pulled away from the computer screen by household duties.

Third, prohibiting gambling is not a federal issue. For most of U.S. history federal criminal laws were reserved for the most heinous of crimes and for lawbreakers who crossed state lines. Today, the criminal code is increasingly being federalized, which destroys local enforcement and the bonds that keep the law tied closely to the people.

Fourth, this bill would prevent states from selling lottery tickets over the Internet which clearly violates states' rights. States legally operate lotteries now, and although no state sells lottery tickets on the Internet now, it is clearly within their rights to do so.

Five, the American people have the right to enjoy their vices on the Internet. If a few Americans can't control their compulsive behavior, society should try to find a way to help them. But laws are coercive everyone must obey them or face prosecution.

Some congressmen may think of gambling as a sin or a vice that should not be tolerated. It should be remembered that law and morality are two separate and distinct categories. Some sins are illegal, but many are not. Persuading someone to walk in the path of the righteous is a more difficult task but ultimately more successful than passing a law restraining behavior.

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