Nixon famously shook his jowls and told interviewer told David Frost, "When the president does it, it's not illegal." Apparently, Sen. Harry Reid feels the same way about gambling. If his campaign contributors do it, it's ok.
But if you do it - without letting him wet his beak a little first - then it's a problem.
Reid is using his considerable sway as a U.S. Senator to grease passage of a law making its way through Congress that would outlaw online gambling. You might suppose Reid - a Mormon - is opposed to gambling on principle. That he finds it objectionable, a vice that ought to be suppressed. At least that would be a moral stand. Wrongheaded, perhaps but defensible as a matter of principle. (The state's job is to keep us from harming one another, not to keep us from diverting our own time - and money - on pursuits that while perhaps not exactly productive certainly entail no harm to others.)
Reid's position is not principled. It is calculated, cynical - and quid pro quo.
The quid comes from Sheldon Adelson - an extremely wealthy Vegas casino baron. He funneled money to the campaign war chests of politicians (including Reid but also lately several Republicans) who then called for hearings to witness against the evils of Internet gambling. These hearings were a bought-and-paid-for dog and pony show. A public amen corner for the money that paid for it all.
That's the pro quo.
Now, there's no sin in being wealthy. Nor in wanting to become wealthier still - as Adelson (CEO of the famous Sands casino and reportedly the world's eighth richest man) clearly seems interested in becoming.
The sin is using government authority to prevent others from becoming rich; to gain a competitive advantage not through free exchange or by offering consumers a better deal or a better product - but by suppressing the competition.
Which is exactly what Adelson is doing.
Or at least, trying very hard to get the government to do for him, as his proxy.
It is a texbook example of digital age crony capitalism.
Banning online gambling would be the same in principle as banning other forms of e-commerce, such as buying clothes or appliances or any other thing online rather than by going to a brick and mortar storefront. Online buying is both more convenient and less expensive precisely because online retailers do not have to maintain a storefront and bear all the associated expenses, which must then be folded into the cost of the items they sell.
This is healthy all around because it lowers costs all around - not just online. Storefront businesses must remain competitive, either by offering comparable pricing - or by offering something in addition, such as as personal assistance with the purchase, the opportunity for the consumer to physically handle the merchandise prior to purchase - and so on.
Gambling operates on the same principle.
For some who enjoy this pastime, it is preferable to partake online. It is easier - and a whole lot cheaper - to turn their laptop on, click an icon and play a digitized version of one-armed bandit or Texas Hold 'em than it is to buy a plane ticket to Vegas. But there are still and millions of people who enjoy the in-person (and among other people) social experience of being in Vegas, at a casino. This cannot be replicated on a flatscreen in one's home. It is the difference between watching a pay-per-view fight on TV - and being ringside.
"Storefront" gambling is not going to disappear just because some people will do their gambling via the Internet. However, it will face new competitive pressure - and others stand to make a buck.
Which is why Adelson is annoyed - and scared. And digging deep to fund a false-front opposition to what he considers to be a threat to his bottom line.
However, Adelson ought to chill.
Online gambling will expand the business, not diminish it. The only thing that Adelson and his bought-and-paid-for political frontmen will achieve by illegalizing online gambling is driving it underground, which always transforms a fairly harmless petty vice into a bonanza for criminals. Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s is the obvious example, but the principle is the same. If people want to gamble, they are going to gamble. In Vegas - or online.
Why not let them - and provide a safe - because above board - way for them to do so?
Adelson's fear is misplaced. But his greed is - apparently - without limit.
Or scruple.
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