- - Wednesday, February 26, 2014


When pop singer Warren Zevon sang of his gambling addiction, he begged his father to “bring lawyers, guns and money” to get him out of a jam. Some casino operators in Nevada are taking the advice to heart. One has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to prohibit wagering on the Internet, using an army of lawyers and lobbyists. Nevada’s junior senator, Dean Heller, is looking to get his favored constituents out of the jam of competition.

Many thought Internet gambling was dead when Congress killed it in 2006, but it just won’t stay in the graveyard. If someone in the United States plays a game of virtual poker or roulette, no credit card company or bank can process the transaction without running into real-world trouble with the law. Online casinos were relegated to virtual back alleys until the Justice Department said in 2011 that the statute didn’t apply to states selling lottery tickets to residents over the Internet. A dozen other states, including California, are poised to try to legalize online poker.

Brick-and-mortar casinos see this as a mortal threat. There’s less reason to hop on a plane to Vegas if games of chance are a mere mouse click away. “We want to change the law back,” Mr. Heller told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week. “Obviously that was done by the attorney general two days before Christmas, about three or four years ago, hoping that nobody would notice. The purpose of it was to allow Illinois to put their lottery tickets online.”

The law must not be inflexible if it serves crony interests. Former Gov. George Pataki of New York heads the “Coalition To Stop Internet Gambling,” which is trying to persuade Congress to repeal state laws that allow the placing of horse racing bets, sales of lottery ticket sales or other games to take place with a browser. When he ran the Empire State, Mr. Pataki argued for slot machines, a video lottery and Indian casinos as a means of generating revenue. Now, as a lobbyist for the coalition, Mr. Pataki argues that gambling “fuels terrorism.” Scratch a politician and his hypocrisy itches.

Many jurisdictions that prohibit gambling as a moral wrong nevertheless sell Powerball tickets, counting on the suckers never to realize that they have approximately the same mathematical chance of winning whether they buy a ticket or not.

But everybody likes a friendly wager. President Obama bet Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the U.S. Olympic hockey team would beat the Canadians (and lost). Secretary of State John Kerry made a similar bet with his Canadian counterpart and had to send a case of Samuel Adams across the border. But states down on their luck shouldn’t try betting to get them out of a jam. That would only make losers of everybody.

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