Politics & Policy

Online Gambling’s Other Cost

(Illustration: Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling)
Proponents of Internet gambling are seeking government oversight of the Internet.

The debate over Internet gambling has focused on the negative effects that widespread Internet gambling will have on families, state economies and state budgets, and the policing of criminal enterprises and terrorist organizations. But aside from these important concerns, there is a fundamental question that affects the future of Internet regulation and that supporters of Internet gambling are trying to hide and obfuscate.

Internet-gambling proponents are seeking to create, for the first time, formal government oversight and enforcement of a specified class of Internet content. The expansion of Internet gambling will result in the expansion of government and raise more questions about the government presence in our daily lives.

At both the state and the federal levels, Internet-gambling proponents are aggressively lobbying to establish the most far-reaching government regulations of the Internet. One bill calls for the creation of an Office of Internet Gambling Oversight in the Department of the Treasury and would “empower the federal government for overall oversight.” Another calls for an Office of Internet Poker Oversight.

#ad#We already know the government has tracked our political activities, monitored our phone calls, and will soon have access to our most personal medical information. Once the government starts actively monitoring one aspect of our Internet commerce, is it credible to believe that it will stop there?

This may start with monitoring age and location for purposes of regulating Internet gambling, but it will not stop there. The gambling industry is already heavily regulated, and rightfully so. Legalizing Internet gambling would expand this heavy regulation to the Internet and create a new breed of government Internet-content cops.

I believe in the U.S. Constitution and in the rights of states as spelled out by the Tenth Amendment. But by its nature, the Internet is a global network transcending state boundaries. Fifty states with 50 different laws regulating the Internet would put up digital roadblocks at every state border, putting a huge burden on commerce.

Let’s look at it another way. What if the FAA didn’t exist and there were 50 different sets of aircraft regulations? Airplanes would have to stop at every state border to ensure they were in compliance with the next state’s rules. The cost of compliance with every state’s rules would be burdensome and the cost of air travel would skyrocket. The same applies to Internet gambling. State-by-state regulations would smother innovation and growth.

It goes without saying that I think that the federal government ought to stay out of states’ business as much as possible. But, for a reason, the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states. The Founding Fathers believed, as I do, in limiting federal powers, but they also recognized that we must take care to avoid barriers to commerce between the states for our state and national economies to flourish.

The proponents of Internet gambling are at the edge of a slippery slope, the bottom of which is a Federal Department of Internet Regulation with broad and intrusive powers. Internet-gambling advocates like to style themselves as “defenders of the Internet,” but their legislative solutions tell another story.

— Rick Perry is the governor of Texas.

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