MILLIONS OF Americans have engaged in criminal behavior leading up to today’s Super Bowl. You know who you are -- those of you outside Nevada who placed bets on the Indianapolis Colts or Chicago Bears. It’s estimated that about $5 billion will be on the line this afternoon in a nation in which even office pools are technically illegal in some states.
President Bush in October signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, a law intended to resolve any ambiguities about the unlawfulness of placing bets online. Although most fans in the free world can place bets with regulated online casinos, U.S. law enforcement has been busy cracking down on the heinous crime, going after enabling credit card companies, detaining those who run legal foreign online sites if they deign to enter the country and subpoenaing major Wall Street investment banks involved in overseas initial public offerings of online casinos. It’s another brazen attempt to extent prudish American mores to other jurisdictions.
One bemused Las Vegas sports handicapper told the Wall Street Journal last week that the ban on Internet gambling should be renamed the “Sopranos Support Bill,” because the main beneficiaries of keeping closely regulated casinos from doing business online are bookies. Instead of protecting consumers and raising tax revenue from this popular entertainment, the government is protecting the turf of unsavory bookies, many of whom have ties to organized crime.
The gambling crackdown is part of a broader trend of a paternalist state protecting citizens from themselves, curtailing their freedoms in the process. We live in a nation still engaged in a war on terror and in a city struggling with escalating gang violence, yet precious law enforcement resources are being spent on prosecuting morality. But, for today, enjoy the game while pretending you don’t know the spread. After all, that could prove incriminating.