The GOP and the Online Gambling BanPublished August 29, 2008 by OCR Editor
In the last two election cycles, the GOP platform contained a plank supporting a ban on Internet gambling. This past week, the platform committee struck the plank, and then put it right back. Is anyone else confused?
It's a Presidential election year, which means that both major parties are putting together their official election platforms. These platforms are the base on which party members will run for office this year, and run the nation over the next four years. Election platforms also form the background against which a party proposes legislation. They're worth looking at closely, because, win or lose, a party's platform will inform public debate until at least the next national election.
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The Republican Platform Committee, in the lead up to their Party Convention, put the finishing touches on their platform, and in doing so sounded a cautionary note to the online gaming community. Early last week, in an apparent positive move, they removed a plank calling for a ban on Internet gambling. Hours later, when a motion was made to restore the plank, it was replaced by acclamation.
The plank in question read simply, "Millions of Americans suffer from problem or pathological gambling that can destroy families. We support legislation prohibiting gambling over the Internet or in student athletics by student athletes who are participating in competitive sports," and has been in the platform each election cycle since 2000. It seems pretty straightforward, but it was the background to the UIGEA, and the bi-partisan push for an online gambling ban.
As a practical matter, this plank probably means very little. The UIGEA was passed two years ago, and is currently facing challenges in both Congress and the courts. On complex issues, especially issues with an emotional charge such as Internet gambling, the major parties typically will wait to see how the initial legislation fairs on review before trying to push for additional action on the matter. The current status quo regarding an online gambling ban is likely to remain in place until the UIGEA is either struck down or amended.
However, the Republican Platform plank does put the Internet gaming community on notice that one major party is publicly committed to a ban on Internet gambling. This is the mindset that led to the UIGEA in the first place, and we need to be wary of it. Online gambling is one of the few "big ticket" items facing Congress in which both sides of the issue draw bi-partisan support. The head of online gambling's biggest lobby, the Poker Player's Alliance, is former Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato, the UIGEA was sponsored by former Republican Representative Jim Leach, and the biggest Congressional challenge to amend or repeal the UIGEA is being led by Democrat Barney Frank and Republican/Libertarian Ron Paul. The politics on the issue are complex, and most members of Congress are unlikely to move until a new law is proposed, or the courts issue a ruling, no matter what either party's platform says.
Still, for the Republican Platform to call for an online gambling ban is rather incongruous, even in a Presidential election year. The modern GOP built its strength and reputation as the party of individual rights. They're currently in the grip of an odd schizophrenia, as they simultaneously push for less and looser government on fiscal issues and more restrictive government on personal "values" issues. This plank is part of that internal confusion, and we won't see a real change, or a consistent policy, until the Republicans come to grips with themselves.