Gambling may be a vice - but is it a crime?
If it is a crime, then - surely - it ought to be illegal always. There is no exception to the rule for theft or assault. They're illegal everywhere.
As they should be - because they're moral wrongs.
But gambling is legal in various government-approved somewheres. Where government controls the "action" - and gets its "cut."
How then to parse Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte's vehement opposition to online gaming… juxtaposed against the exemption he helped to carve out (HR 4411) for interstate gambling on horse racing, fantasy football and state lotteries? As an one appalled Democratic lawmaker (former Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley) put it: "Despite all the righteous indignation we are hearing about the supposed evils of Internet gaming, this bill specifically and brazenly exempts one giant gaming enterprise from its prohibition. The bill's advocates proclaim the immorality of online gaming and shout that will destroy our society… unless you are betting on horse races."
Like Nevada Senator Harry Reid (who happens to be a Democrat), Goodlatte's support for - or opposition to - gambling is not based on principle but on what they used to call payola in the radio business.
Goodlatte and Reid both have ties to powerful casino barons like the infamous Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands and reportedly worth nearly $30 billion. Adelson is a kingmaker (or breaker) in Nevada politics, where his financial support - or lack thereof - can make or break a political campaign. If Adelson merely withholds support from Reid's opponent in the next election cycle, it will make Reid's re-election effort much easier. But if he were to toss $100 million or so (small change for a billionaire; Adelson has spent more than that sum in prior elections) into the war chest of Reid's opponent… .
Goodlatte, meanwhile, has ties to the Vegas casino cartels via six staffers who previously worked for the firm (Patton Boggs LLP) which represented Adelson's interests since 1999. One of these staffers, Rachel Swanson, did not register as a lobbyist while he was working for the Las Vegas Sands' interests. He has also taken at least $15,000 in campaign cash from the Barona Band of Mission Indians , Churchill Downs and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, among others.
Both Goodlatte and Reid's position on gambling is situational, not moral. Certainly, not principled.
This includes's Goodlatte's very adjustable stance on state's rights and the Tenth Amendment. On the one hand, he has said that "states should be sovereign with their physical boundaries." On the other hand, he says there is a "clear need for federal laws prohibiting this conduct."
Well, which is it?
Meanwhile Reid - who has become very friendly with Adelson - claims his new buddy is "… not in this for the money."
Which is kind of like saying a Great White shark isn't in it for the seal dinner.
Adelson founded a PAC called the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling and put on his payroll political hacks such as former NY Governor George Pataki, as well as partnering with the evangelical Christian leader Ralph Reed, who it should be recalled was in bed with the now-disgraced uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's casino clients.
Though a billionaire several times over already, Adelson apparently isn't satisfied. Online gaming - already legal in New York, Delaware, New Jersey - and, yes, Nevada - might remove a gold brick or two off the pallet. But why should anyone - other than Sheldon Adelson - object to this?
Is he entitled to make all the profits? To use the government to shut down the competition?
That's the issue here - not "the children," as Goodlatte styles it. This is despicable demagogic tool used to portray online gambling as depraved and dangerous but gambling that goes on under the roof of one of his casinos is a-ok.
If lawmakers like Goodlatte and Reid were railing against gambling as such - advocating a ban on all gambling, period - then one could at least argue they're taking a principled stand against something they regard as dangerous, unhealthy. But when they both profit from gambling, defend gambling - and only want to ban others from gambling when they can't cash in from it - well, there's something rotten in Denmark.