- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The House of Representatives voted 245-159 to pass the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1999. Because of a rule requiring two-thirds approval, the measure didn’t pass. Its sponsor, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, plans to introduce it again when only a majority is needed for passage.

If enacted, it would “Amend the Federal criminal code to make it unlawful for any person engaged in a gambling business to knowingly use the Internet or any other interactive computer service to: (1) place, receive or otherwise make a bet or wager; or (2) send, receive, or invite information assisting in the placing of a bet or wager.” Criminal penalties include fines and up to five years’ imprisonment.

There is absolutely no constitutional authority for this disgusting abuse of federal power. But most Americans, who think Congress has a right to do anything for which it can get a majority vote, ignore the clearly written constitutional restraints on Congress.

The key restraint here is the Tenth Amendment, which holds that all powers not enumerated in the Constitution belong to the people and the states. Of course, congressmen might pretend they have such authority under the “commerce clause,” their standard excuse to grab power.

Congress’ constitutional contempt is nothing new, but this latest act is quite a step down the slippery slope toward greater control of our lives. Let’s look at some of their justifications. Mr. Goodlatte says, “Internet gambling is a scourge on our society. It causes innumerable problems in our society.” Rep. John Duncan, Tennessee Republican, says, “The Internet is addictive for many people anyway, and online gambling can be doubly addictive.” Most other justifications follow the same line of reasoning: some Americans don’t know what’s good for them, and it’s the job of Congress to stop them from personal indiscretions.

The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act gives Congress the authority to go to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and order it not to provide linkages to online gambling establishments. If you think Congress will be satisfied with restrictions only on gambling establishments, you will be disappointed. After all, the Internet provides people with access to other establishments that can be said to “cause innumerable problems in our society.” There are various hate groups with Internet sites that spew vile propaganda. There are pornographic sites. Some sites present political ideas or religious fanaticism that are offensive to many people and can “cause innumerable problems in our society.”

If the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act is approved, it will be a precedent for congressional control over other Internet aspects and an important loss in our liberty. Let’s follow the money and ask who benefits if the law passes. What about legal gambling establishments in Las Vegas, Atlantic City and elsewhere? They would be happy to see less online gambling competition.

What about federal, state and local governments? Online gambling, most it offshore, doesn’t create any tax revenue for them. The bill focuses on online games such as poker, blackjack and sports betting but exempts taxable state-regulated gambling such as lotteries and horse racing.

If people want to gamble online, they will gamble online. The act will only, like Prohibition, make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding people. It will turn banks and other financial institutions into government snoops.

Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat, said, “If an adult in this country, with his own money, wants to engage in an activity that harms no one, how dare we bar it.” I second that and add — since protection of “the children” often serves as an excuse to restrict our liberties — if children get involved, let their parents, not Congress, deal with it.

Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and professor of economics at George Mason University.

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