The hearing had been scheduled earlier in the month then delayed. I wrote something here at the time about it, in particular regarding the rumored list of witnesses almost all of whom were virulently anti-gambling in pretty much all forms, with the online version considered especially grievous. (Also wrote about RAWA during last December’s lame duck session when its proponents were hoping it might sneak through.)
Had the sucker on while working in the kitchen preparing dinner, an Irish pot pie with lentils, carrots, and turnips that turned out nicely. Thankfully the hearing ended before we sat down to eat, as much of the testimony and answers from the witnesses was sadly stomach-turning.
The hearing -- like most on the Hill -- was obviously primarily a bit of theater that allowed most involved to pretend to engage in a “dialogue” about the idea represented by RAWA, namely, to prohibit all forms of online gambling in the United States. It’s a truly radical idea, the consequences of which would not be insignificant should the bill become law. And so John Kindt (a business prof. with a long history of raving testimony comparing gambling to drugs), Les Bernal (director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation), and Michael Fagan (not the guy who broke into Buckingham Palace back in the 1980s, but an adjunct law prof. with experience prosecuting money-launderers and racketeers) were there voicing fairly radical views about the widespread harms of gambling and the need for government to protect us from ourselves.
The testimony of these three was often so out-to-lunch it was hard not to crack wise in response. Bernal in particular went on a rant about “government-sponsored internet gambling” (even pounding the desk and repeating phrases as he did) that seemed to want to suggest that by not prohibiting gambling, governments were somehow requiring people to gamble.
For example, Bernal characterizes those who argue in favor of “states rights” on the issue of online gambling as adopting a position that “state governments should be allowed to force casino gambling and lottery games into every bedroom, dorm room and smart phone in their communities, even though a strong majority of individuals in states don’t want it.” Such is part of his larger characterization of a “predatory” government looking for ways to exploit its citizens.
Of course, what Bernal is saying is patently absurd. States that have passed laws allowing their citizens to gamble online in a regulated environment (as in a licensed casino) are obviously not “forcing” these games into citizens’ lives.
At one point Bernal tossed out a statistic that 5% of the population has had their lives “turned upside down by gambling,” a stat gleaned, incidentally, from an NIH study speculating (without supporting data) that both “pathological and problem gambling may affect up to 5% of Americans” (italics added). But of course he turns the idea of prohibition upside down when he weirdly suggests that government should enact a law to take away a freedom in order to give citizens the freedom not to do something.
Kindt meanwhile maintained regulation to be simply an entirely impossible goal, utterly ignoring the evidence of states having successfully managed to do just that and instead citing sources dating back to the 1990s as support. Fagan likewise looked not at regulated online gambling but unregulated examples as providing evidence of online gambling having financed terrorism.
Not everyone testifying was as crazed-sounding or illogical as these three often were. Parry Aftab of Wired Safety was again a balanced witness who suggested regulation a much preferable alternative to prohibition, while the R Street Institute’s Andrew Moylan pointed out how federal bill like RAWA would wrongly usurp states’ rights.
Most distasteful was the bill’s sponsor, Jason Chaffetz (pictured above), appearing to ignore what everyone was saying while maintaining it to be a “fiction for anyone to believe” states can in fact keep citizens from gambling online on sites maintained outside the state’s borders. Chaffetz delivered that point hastily, then left the hearing before it was over. Didn’t see him drop a mic before leaving, although it felt like he should have.
I trust some members of the subcommittee did learn something yesterday, although like I say, the hearing itself often seemed more about deception than instruction. If you’re curious, check out others’ more detailed rundowns of the hearing, among them Matthew Kredell’s for PokerNews and Steve Ruddock’s for BLUFF. If you can stomach them, that is.