This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Barack Obama’s Justice Department, which has gotten picky about which laws it wants to enforce, decided in December that it wouldn’t apply the 1961 Wire Act to online gambling.
That decision, which reversed many years of federal policy, has produced a predictable sequel. Nevada and Delaware have legalized Internet gaming, and New Jersey may follow them by the end of the year.
Far more ominously, there’s a move afoot in Congress to legalize Web betting across the country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other powerful lawmakers are pushing to repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006.
If the industry has its way with Congress, there’d be no safe havens. Washington has attempted to ban online gaming, but federal legalization would probably allow gambling websites in other states to accept bets from Washingtonians. Our state’s policy would be effectively overturned.
It’s an irresponsible idea; lifting existing restrictions would magnify the social damage of casino gambling.
Nannyism isn’t always a bad thing. All of society has a stake in discouraging self-destructive behavior, including compulsive gambling.
Most gamblers are not compulsive; they bet from time to time as a form of entertainment. They can take it or leave it.
In this state, as in most others, they have no shortage of opportunity to play cards or slot machines. Washington abounds in small nontribal casinos, and it has enormous tribal casinos – such as the Puyallup tribe’s Emerald Queen – as well.
But some gamblers are addicts or near-addicts. For them, betting lights up exactly the same brain circuits as addictive drugs do. Gambling addicts often wreak havoc on the lives of people close to them. In many cases, they blow the mortgage money, rack up huge balances on credit cards or otherwise ruin their families’ finances behind the backs of their spouses.
In the worst cases, gamblers resort to embezzlement and other crimes to keep the action going. Skeeter Timothy Manos – who embezzled money from public donations for survivors of four slain Lakewood police officers – is a notorious recent example of gambling away other people’s money.
Addictive gambling by itself is an illness, not a crime – but it is certainly not victimless.
As with other addictions, abuse has a lot to do with availability. Right now, a compulsive gambler has to go somewhere to bet. A casino may be only a couple of miles down the road, but the effort required to get there may be sufficient to help him avoid the place. There’s no barrier of time and effort when the gambling machine is sitting right on the table in his home.
Congress – and the Obama administration – ought to be tightening the laws against Internet gaming, not loosening them. The Washington Legislature got this right in 2006 when it criminalized the industry. The other Washington should keep its hands off our law.