Online Gaming Falsely Blamed For Money Laundering

Rob Manfred, the new commissioner of Major League Baseball, has been making noises about rescinding Pete Rose’s lifetime ban and perhaps clearing the way for Rose to enter the Hall of Fame.

With all the time that has passed, a lot of fans say: Why not? Yes, he was caught gambling on baseball during both his playing and managing career. And yes, he bet on his own team, the Cincinnati Reds.

But he was a 17-time all-star, a 3-time world champion and won three most valuable player awards. He holds all-time records for hits, games played, singles and outs. Besides, they say, others have done far worse.

So why does baseball keep Rose out? Because it knows, as does every other entity involved in sports or gambling, that if the game is not perceived as clean, the game will go broke.

Congress should keep this in mind as it weighs whether to let states continue to conduct online wagering. 

It was widely assumed states were prohibited from allowing online gambling by the Wire Act, a 1961 law designed to stop bookmakers and loan sharks. But in 2011, citing details of the original Senate debate of the legislation, the Obama Justice Department said the law forbade only online sports betting.

Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada now allow online wagering, and several states allow online customers to play their lotteries. Despite the fact none of this has brought the Republic to its knees, there is a move afoot in Congress to make online gambling illegal “again.” 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has introduced the Restoring America’s Wire Act, which he says would clarify existing law. What it would do is create an entirely new prohibition against online gambling when there is little evidence such a ban is needed and even less that the federal government needs to be meddling into what always has been considered state law.

His arguments will be on display soon as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which he chairs, will hold a hearing on the legislation. They are highlighted in two letters sent to members of Congress – one in 2009 and another in 2013. Neither reflects current realities in technology or conditions on the ground.

The argument is that online gambling could be gamed by teams of players working together to ensure they win and that players could thwart geolocation systems and play across state lines or before reaching adult age. 

More significantly, there are concerns the games could be used to transfer illegally obtained money – Player A could make a payment to Player B by losing a hand on purpose, for instance. 

Most chillingly, supporters claim online gambling could be used by terrorists to finance attacks in the United States.

But even in the most out-of-date letter – the 2009 missive to Rep. Spencer Baucus, R-Ala., the FBI admits the technology exists to thwart money laundering, collusion among players and even assuring players are of legal age. It just questions whether the gambling operations will go to the trouble.

Go to the trouble? Their businesses depend on it. The Poker Players Alliance points to a gambling website that came to be corrupted by players. A group of other regular players noticed and proved the fraud, and the website never recovered. It’s hard to go broke running a gambling operation, but this one did.

Moreover, laws in all three states require regular testing for fraud, money laundering and age and location verification. In the UK, online gambling concerns must maintain the same anti-fraud protection as banks, so security is available and scalable. 

The criminal element generally does not prefer environments where everything is, by law, so carefully documented. Indeed, the Justice Department says it has never worked a case that linked Internet poker to money laundering or organized crime. 

The excuses seem like weak tea because they are. This is a state-level decision if ever there was one. And it would be decided at the state level if casino magnate Sheldon Adelson hadn’t vowed to “spend whatever it takes” to wipe out the competition from online gambling. 

Baseball has taken a lot of criticism for continuing to keep Pete Rose out. And gambling operations have made significant investments in making sure players perceive their operations as fair and honest. And they’ll continue to do so because they know their livelihoods depend on it. Congress should get out of the way and let them do so.