Sometimes when I go to my hometown of Shreveport, La., for Christmas, I visit the local casinos. The one thing I see every time: out-of-state license plates ??? tons of them.
Gamblers pour over the border from nearby Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma to visit Shreveport and Bossier City???s riverboat casinos and the vast hotels and fancy restaurants attached to them.
Louisiana made the decision to allow casino gambling. Texas and Arkansas did not. There are advantages to both approaches, but my hometown makes a lot of money off the fact these decisions are made at the state level.
Today, Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada allow their citizens to gamble over the Internet, and Michigan, Illinois and Georgia and about a dozen more states allow them to buy lottery tickets over the web. They see the tax revenue potential ??? in New Jersey, online betting generates about $10 million a month for the state. They also see jobs and potential for online betting outfits to partner with casinos and generate still more money.
But Congress has other ideas. Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in the House and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, called the Restoration of America???s Wire Act, would outlaw most online gaming and gambling, preserving only a few exceptions favored by high-powered Las Vegas interests.
All the talk we hear from Republicans about reducing the size of government, devolving power to the states and truly enforcing the 10th Amendment ??? here is the chance to act on this talk.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, who control the two judiciary committees, could work with Tea Partiers such as Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-SC, to draw a line in the sand. Tea Party activists could join with those on the left who are fed up with crony capitalism to expose the true nature, origin and intent of this legislation. And state Aspiring Governors ??? I mean, Attorneys General ??? could join forces to defend the legal prerogatives of their legislatures.
This is straight crony capitalism. There is no more reason to stop states who want to legalize online gambling than there is to stop those, such as Louisiana, who want to legalize casinos.
It???s no more addicting than casino gambling, and the online firms would have incentive and ability to identify problem gamblers and urge them to seek help. The option ??? keeping it illegal and pushing these problem gamblers underground ??? doesn???t seem productive.
The industry already employs thousands of people around the world and that would grow dramatically if more states legalized online gambling. Tie-ins with brick-and-mortar casinos might even save some of those who have found the going rough in recent years.
Others say allowing lottery tickets to be sold online threatens convenience stores, which rely on lottery sales for significant portions of their profits. But for most people, lottery tickets are an add-on purchase, not a reason for the trip.
Gambling is not an economic panacea, as my hometown demonstrates. The casinos have brought Shreveport-Bossier City many benefits ??? more five-star restaurants, more shopping, more top-flight entertainment, etc. But it is not without its problems. At one point, fences were constructed on the downtown bridges after a raft of suicides. Restaurants away from the riverfront have suffered, and some industries have moved away.
But the argument against this legislation ??? which would amend the Wire Act, a 1961 law to combat mob gambling ??? does not rest on economics. It rests on basic freedoms ??? the freedom to do what we want in our homes with our money as long as it doesn???t bother anyone else, and the freedom of states to choose their own course on any matter not specifically constitutionally delegated to the federal government.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, who owes his political career to casino bosses, supports the measure but has in the past proposed a carve-out for his home state because, to him, Nevada is mature enough to handle any kind of gambling, but other states are not. Same goes for Sheldon Adelson, the 8th richest man in the world and, yes, a significant Republican donor.
But the mood of the country does not favor them. Reid lost his job as majority leader because Americans were fed up with intransigence and crony capitalism, and their anger has only grown in the last year ??? witness the early success of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Donald Trump in presidential polling.
Moreover, most casinos are against this, as are most state lottery directors and a growing roster of conservative and libertarian groups. Congress doesn???t seem eager to tackle the issue ??? the House version, filed in February, and the Senate version, filed in June, are still collecting dust, although a House committee did hold a hearing on it in March.
But if this does see the light of day, it will provide members of Congress on both sides of the aisle an opportunity to strike a clear, identifiable blow against crony capitalism. Let???s hope they see this opportunity and seize it.