US Gambling Prohibition 'Flawed'? Say it ain't so!

One of the hottest trends on the internet today is online gambling. Chances are that you or someone you know plays or has played some game online for money - usually poker, which is by far the most popular game to play on the internet. But the USA has instituted a ban on internet gambling sites which actually operate within its borders, claiming that the sites will simply be money-laundering factories and, of course, will promote the degeneracy of the American people.

Just like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, or the modern-day prohibition of marijuana and other drugs the federal government has classified as being harmful and without practical use, this is doomed to fail. Prohibition was repealed (in 1933) specifically because it was making criminals celebrities. Where organizations like the Mafia previously had to commit things which can actually be termed crimes (like murder, arson, fraud, theft, and so on) in order to make money, prohibition changed things entirely. All they had to do in order to make money was to give the people what they wanted, and consequently they collectively became a sort of Robin Hood figure, with the support of the majority of the population who believed in their freedom to drink, whatever they might say in church about temperance.

Today, the prohibition on drugs has the effect that large amounts of American money travels overseas to foreign countries like Afghanistan (the source of much of our Opium, and thus Heroin) and ostensibly funds terrorism - hence the latest excuse for the puritanical and primarily financially motivated War On (Some) Drugs. It is not a coincidence that the prohibition on gambling is a nearly identical situation.

The story of the prohibition of alcohol in the US is fairly simple, and looks to have mostly been motivated by concepts of religious morality, while the map of what led to which in the story of the prohibition on marijuana looks something like a skein of yarn wrapped around several sets of lower intestines. It is clear that financial interests were involved, however; the primary suspects are DuPont, which was just getting into (and pioneering the field of) plastics, and the other is William Randolf Hearst, who was heavily invested in the paper-from-wood industry. The US Government itself announced in the 1800s that it believed that hemp paper would take over completely, and trees would cease to be used for paper!

But this isn't about drugs, it's about gambling. Gambling falls into a broad category which some of us like to call "victimless crime", along with use of illegal drugs, prostitution, and some other similar items. All of these things are actually legal somewhere in this country; gambling is legal in tribal casinos in many states, and pretty much anywhere in Nevada, although the games are regulated fairly closely. Similarly, there are also places in Nevada where prostitution is legal. And, finally, possession (and use) of up to four ounces of marijuana is legal in Alaska, and for anyone with a prescription for its use in California may legally transport up to one ounce and may actually legally grow plants. Neither California, Alaska, or Nevada has collapsed under the weight of these activities, so the question has to be why the federal government is interested in regulating any of them.

The reasoning for keeping drugs illegal is pretty simple and straightforward; there are numerous industries which would suffer if marijuana (specifically) were legal. First, because it would also have the effect of making the growing of Hemp legal, it would immediately impact the paper and plastic industries. Second, it would also harm the alcohol industry, because large quantities of alcohol when mixed with significant quantities of marijuana usually lead to copious quantities of vomit and let's face it, a joint is less harmful than a liter of wine by any reasonable standard. But beyond that it would also deprive the justice, "peace", and corrections systems of amazing amounts of revenue and influence. All those fun toys the police departments of America are getting lately have been about the "war on terror", but before that (and still this day of course) there's the war on drugs to serve as the bogeyman.

But the prohibitions of gambling and prostitution are more confusing. Again, Gambling is obviously not destroying our culture; you've been able to go to Reno or Las Vegas and get virtually or even literally lost in a maze of slot machines and flashing lights for many years now. You've also been able to go to Reno and pay someone to have sex with you in a controlled environment for quite some time, but that also seems to have failed to destroy us. So why are these things illegal?

The simple answer is that the US was founded by puritans. It's been a long running joke for the Australians that it's a bloody good thing that they were founded by criminals instead of puritans, and I can't help but agree - although they're still missing the guarantee of several of our freedoms, the guarantees don't seem to miss much, so overall it's a wash. This puritanical legacy has at this moment culminated (so far) in the religious "right" gaining control over the Republican party, which has in turn gained control over the country, but its influence is pervasive throughout our culture. It's a damned good thing that we seem to have some sort of universal irreverence in our culture as well, because otherwise we'd all be wearing those big stupid hats with the buckles on them.

But in the end, the only thing that prohibition does is create new criminals, and provide additional opportunities for them and for career criminals, organized crime, and foreign interests (which may fall under any of the above categories, or any of many others.) A great deal of the gambling money is going to Costa Rica, which has a law against collecting winnings from gambling but apparently none on fleecing people over the internet. Since they have no gaming regulations, there's no one even attempting to make sure that they're running a tight ship. For all you know, the game is entirely rigged. But more importantly to the US in general, that money is leaving the country, and nothing is coming back in return, except to winners - and there's less of them than losers. In addition, this money is not being taxed (at least by the US) when it is spent, meaning it's depriving us of tax revenue.

While we are still mired in denial, claiming that these are "wars" that we can "win", other people have discovered that a war on victimless crime is a war against your own people, and there is no winner in such a conflict. One such person is Tessa Jowell, who among other things is England's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The beeb tells us that she has this to say:

Broadly speaking we have three choices: you can prohibit, like the US, do nothing or regulate, like we have. I firmly believe we have chosen the path that will do the most to protect children and vulnerable people and keep out crime.

America should have learnt the lessons of prohibition. The Volstead Act (which brought in prohibition in 1919) was meant to stop alcohol from causing harm, but in practice it forced otherwise law-abiding customers into the hands of the bootleggers.

If it goes wrong, there is a real danger is that off shore sites based in poorly regulated countries will become the modern day equivalent of speakeasies, increasing the risk of exploitation and fraud.

Truer words have seldom been spoken. Unfortunately, the US is not big on history, and we've apparently forgotten many things, including the very values upon which this nation was founded - first among them, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I feel like someone replaced my liberty with New Folger's Crystals just to see if I would notice.

I've noticed, and I'm not the only one.

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