In the November issue of The American Conservative, I wrote an article saying that the repeal of online gambling restrictions in the U.S. was all but inevitable. I feel increasingly confident that — unlike like most of my wagers with the future — this prediction will be proved right.
The wheels of reform are turning with gathering speed. Tomorrow, a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee will discuss Barney Frank’s Internet Gambling Regulation Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act of 2009 (H.R. 2267). That is expected to open up the way to a house vote, and it seems highly unlikely that social conservatives and and anti-web gambling interests in Washington will have enough influence to stop the bill’s progress into law. The consensus now says that the controversial Unlawful Internet Gabling Enforcement Act will be dropped by June 2010.
Some libertarians might be tempted to portray any loosening of gambling restrictions as a small but important triumph for personal freedom, a blow against the preachy “moral values” Republicanism of the Bush years — which anyway was nothing more than a hypocritical cloak for bribed obedience to the Vegas-based traditional sports and gaming lobby.
Really, however, the apparent change in Washington’s attitude is less to do with moral agendas, more a consequence of the good ol’ fashioned realpolitick of fiscal determinism. Online gambling has become, quite simply, too juicy a financial fruit for the hungry tax-system to resist any longer: The Joint Committee on Taxation recently estimated that the government could generate some $42 billion over 10 years from regulating the Internet betting industry. Small wonder politicians are coming round.
So is a change in the law something libertarian conservatives should welcome?