Monday, August 6th, 2007, 2:15 pm
Via Dan we learn what the charming far-right fanatics who oppose online gambling are up to these days. In this case it’s a letter sent to members of Congress urging them to resist any anti-UIGEA bills that might be introduced and demanding that additional attention be given to anti-gaming efforts. As usual it’s your typical collection of nonsense, fact-free statements and flat-out lies, but you can’t deny that these folks know what it takes to construct an effective lobbying letter:
August 1, 2007
Dear Member of Congress,
As a bipartisan coalition of family and faith-based organizations representing millions of citizens nationwide, we thank you for your efforts to protect families from the dangers of Internet gambling. Last year, Congress took the very valuable step of enacting the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) so that U.S. gambling laws could be better enforced on the Internet. We are concerned, however, about ensuring the integrity of UIGEA in upcoming months. We have three primary concerns:
• Congressional support for strong UIGEA regulations from the Treasury Department
o Add list of illegal Internet gambling to FinCEN and OFAC lists, block transactions
o Create a system for reporting illegal sites to the DOJ (Internet, phone, mail)
o Enforce prosecution of illegal online gambling operations
• Your support of UIGEA’s integrity and your opposition to contrary legislation
• Congressional support for U.S. withdrawal from WTO obligations that jeopardize UIGEA
Internet gambling represents the most invasive and addictive form of gambling in history. Speed, accessibility, availability and anonymity make Internet gambling the perfect storm for gambling addiction. Internet gambling also creates fertile ground for criminal activity and threatens homeland security by potentially funding terrorist activity. More than 230 million Americans access the Internet, many of whom are children and adolescents. Internet gambling extends beyond state borders, beyond democratically enacted laws and is piped directly into millions of homes. Before Congress passed UIGEA, nearly 3,000 online casinos could be accessed instantly with the click of a mouse.
Since its passage, UGIEA has severely cut unlawful U.S. profits to foreign gambling interests. Now these Internet casino operations are willing to spend millions of dollars influencing Congress to gain legal access into U.S. homes. In fact, the UC Group (a leading payment service provider in the U.K.) claims to be “leading the initiative” behind Rep. Barney Frank’s bill, H.R. 2046. The misinformation campaign is in full swing, and Congress is the target.
You should be aware of several bills that threaten the integrity of UIGEA:
• Rep. Frank’s bill H.R. 2046 – far-reaching legalization of Internet gambling, providing online casinos with exemptions from federal and state laws
• Rep. Wexler’s bill H.R. 2610 – exempts poker and “games of skill” from UIGEA
• Rep. McDermott’s bill H.R. 2607 – licenses and taxes Internet casinos
Foreign gambling interests are also pressuring the World Trade Organization (WTO) to force the U.S. to legalize Internet gambling. They claim that the U.S. is obligated to legalize gambling because it committed to free trade in “recreational services,” and a WTO panel agreed. Now the U.S. is seeking to amend its trade commitments to make clear that Congress never intended to turn over to the WTO its right to set gambling policy. Congress should return the favor to the U.S. Trade Representative by supporting these negotiations.
Again, thank for your time and service in preserving families. We hope for your ongoing support of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the upcoming months.
Senior Vice President
Focus on the Family Action
Guy C. Clark, D.D.S.
National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling
Christian Coalition of America
Rev. Donald E. Wildmon
Executive Director and Founder
American Family Association
President and Founder
Vice President for Government Affairs
Family Research Council
Dr. Keith Wiebe
American Association of Christian Schools
Calling a group that includes Donald Wildmon, Gary Bauer, and Phyllis Schlafly a "bipartisan coalition" takes a truly Biblical amount of chutzpah. Other statements made in the letter do not quite hold up to scrutiny.
For example, the letter says, "Last year, Congress took the very valuable step of enacting the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) so that U.S. gambling laws could be better enforced on the Internet." This is not true–the UIGEA is designed to block financial transactions to and from online gaming sites. What gambling laws that currently exist could’ve been enforced at any time because…they’re the law. The problem is that the current laws governing online gaming aren’t especially clear. Nor did the UIGEA clarify matters, as it targeted the flow of money, not what is/isn’t illegal.
I especially like the one recommendation they make that addresses one of their "primary concerns": "Create a system for reporting illegal sites to the DOJ (Internet, phone, mail)". Yeah, that’s what we need in America, our own verision of the Stasi.
The letter also calls for "Congressional support for U.S. withdrawal from WTO obligations that jeopardize UIGEA". In other words, since the WTO ruled in favor of Antigua in the complaint they brought against the U.S., they think the Congress should vote to withdraw the United States from WTO obligations. That the United States should abandon it’s leadership position in world trade over a dispute about online gaming is completely nuts. Not that the rest of the world exactly respects or trusts the United States these days thanks to the neverending comedy of errors that is the Bush Administration, but there will come a day when intelligent, competent people will again hold important positions in our government. And rebuidling our national reputation will be a bit easier if we don’t abandon ALL the principals our nation was founded on. Including free trade and good ‘ol capitalism.
The letter also misconstrues the nature of Antigua’s WTO complaint. Antigua did not, "…claim that the U.S. is obligated to legalize gambling because it committed to free trade in ‘recreational services…’ " That’s not why Antigua filed it’s complaint, nor why the WTO found it its favor. Antigua argued that the U.S. allows it’s citizens to make wagers online within it’s borders, but doesn’t allow them to make wagers through overseas companies. And that’s true–it’s perfectly legal to bet on horses (and fantasy sports, and lotteries) online in the United States. The UIGEA specifically exempted those forms of gambling. So, Antigua argued, if it’s legal for U.S. citizens to wager with U.S. companies, it’s a violation for them to block U.S. customers from wagering with foreign compaines. And the WTO agreed. THAT’S the issue, not some nebulous claim about "free trade in recreational services".
The letter then predictably trots out the ‘ol Terrorist bogeyman: "Internet gambling also creates fertile ground for criminal activity and threatens homeland security by potentially funding terrorist activity." I like the ass-covering word "potentially". Of course, I could say that religious organizations like "Focus on the Family" potentially fund terrorist activity. I don’t actually have any PROOF of this (was Eric Rudolph a member?) but the letter certainly doesn’t give a single shred of evidence to support that claim. And since I work in this industry, these people are accusing ME of belonging to an organization that potentially funds terrorist activity. And I don’t like that, not one little bit.
In case you wanted a double-helping of chutzpah, check out this sentence: " Internet gambling extends beyond state borders, beyond democratically enacted laws…" Yeah, like the UIGEA? A law that was tacked onto the SAFE Port Act at 9:30pm and wasn’t openly debated by Congress? Well, I guess parlimentary skullduggery is part of the democratic process. Of course, hypocrasy comes dangerously close to violating the Ninth Commandment, the one that goes, "Thou shalt not bear false witness…" One wonders how finely God splits hairs in such cases.
I guess we should be thankful that people like Wildman and James Dobson hold a bit less sway now that control of Congress has shifted over to the Democrats. And come 2008, when a Democratic President is elected and even more Republicans are hopefully ushed off the national stage, their influence will wane even further. Still, it’s a sad commentary on our nation that people of this ilk have ANY ability to affect change at a national level. The lesson here is that you shouldn’t sit on the sidelines. You can write to your Congressperson too. Be polite. Be honest. Explain that you ARE NOT a terrorist sympathizer, nor are any of your poker buddies. Explain that we’re red-blooded, patriotic Americans who are responsible enough to make rational decisions about online gaming. Far more rationally than the hysterical fabricators of the letter referenced above.
UPDATE: Ken makes a good point in the comments, that the UIGEA isn’t really purely a Republican/Democratic issue. I have no confidence that the Democratically-controlled Congress will suddenly repeal the UIGEA. Quite a few Democrats are opposed to legalizing online gaming and, besides, have their own ideas about what we unwashed masses should be allowed to do with our time and/or money.
That said, I think that the power of the Religious Right, which helped spearhead the fight against online gaming, will decrease as more Republicans fail to win re-election. My own Congressman, Jason Altmire, defeated incumbent Melissa Hart in November, and Hart was one of the co-sposors of an anti-gaming bill in the House prior to her defeat. I’m actually in the middle of composing a letter to Mr. Altmire as I type, so I’ll let yinz know what, if any, response I get.
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