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Goodman's Misplaced Rant in Newsweek

There’s a distinctly biased, inaccurate, cherry-picked anti-gambling, anti-online poker piece by Leah McGrath Goodman on Newsweek’s digital website. Goodman, a reporter not exactly known for being accurate in her journalism, has had her problems before, notably by blowing the story “blowing the cover” on the founder of Bitcoin where she fingered the wrong guy.

Most of the problems in Goodman’s piece have been noted by others and can be found in the scores of “comments” on Newsweek’s site. One thing they missed that’s worth noting is that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), whom she identifies as one of the legislators looking at online gambling, was behind the stealth passage of the UIGEA in the first place. For those who have forgotten, the bill was ushered out of the House by Goodlatte and friends with the understanding that it would never pass the Senate. Then, at the last possible minute before a recess, Senators Kyle and Frist attached it to the Safe Port bill funding security at America’s ports which absolutely had to pass. Most estimates showed that only three or four Senators even knew the UIGEA was tacked on and that they voted for it.

But there’s much that is bothersome in Goodman’s article. Here are four key points.

First, it’s not going to be possible to stop online gambling and gaming. Criminalizing it or trying to outlaw it will result in unregulated, untaxed and unsupervised online sites run by folks who play fast and loose with everything. Why do we keep forgetting Prohibition? Why don’t we grasp what an across-the-board disaster the war on drugs has been? Why can’t we see the unending damage that comes from efforts to stop the sex trade? Criminalize something that people want and guess who shows up to run it. Legalize, regulate, tax the profits.

Second, in locales where gambling is far more common and socially accepted (e.g., the UK) the rate of problem gambling is far less that it is here. In fact, some studies show it to be only 1/5 to 1/6 as common (adjusted for population). When you make something illegal, it gains an allure that isn’t there when treated as just another thing to do on a rainy afternoon.

Third, while problem gambling (which is the issue that most moralists cite) is real, it has some intriguing elements that they seem to be unaware of. It is, for one, a highly co-morbid disorder. That is, it rarely occurs independent of any of a host of other psychological problems including substance abuse, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, among others. Wide-spread legalizing of online gambling will produce an increase in the incidence of problem gambling — but it won’t increase the incidence of psychopathology, it will just redistribute it. Similarly, eliminating online gambling will not reduce the rate of psychological problems in society, merely redistribute them. The moralists who seek to ban gambling don’t appear to have recognized this pattern.

Fourth, the anti-online-gambling efforts are spearheaded by Conservatives which has produced a brilliant blaze of hypocrisy. Whatever happened to the high ideals of Conservatism, the ones based on the fundamental principle that people should be free to make decisions about their lives, that government should stay out of people’s personal choices, that freedom demands the loosening of the binds of oversight? Conservatives, alas, seem to lose their Libertarian stripes when issues like gambling (and sex and drugs) are on the agenda. When seeking to ban something they don’t like, they suddenly become advocates of big government.

Finally, one can only hope that Newsweek’s editors see the folly of letting this piece of bad journalism on the newsstands. It was painful enough reading it online.

Reader Comments (1)

Excellent article. I agree with every aspect of your comments. Can anyone post comments to Newsweek? Advice or comments to what a stay at home poker player that misses online gaming can do.

August 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoberta Spencer

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