Jacob Sullum

Bob Goodlatte says online gambling is illegal, and he wants to ban it. He sees no contradiction between these two positions.

The Virginia Republican is co-author of a bill recently approved by the House of Representatives that threatens operators of online casinos and betting parlors with a five-year prison sentence. The legislation, which the Senate has not considered yet, also requires banks and credit-card companies to block payments to such sites.

Goodlatte says "it is time to shine a bright light on these illegal sites and bring a quick end to illegal gambling on the Internet." Yet, he concedes that "under current federal law, it is unclear whether using the Internet to operate a gambling business is illegal."

Confused? You're not the only one. The online-gambling ban, which dictates what adults may do with their own money on their own computers in their own homes, is part of what Republicans proudly call their "American Values Agenda." Evidently, those values do not include privacy, freedom of choice, individual responsibility or free markets.

Goodlatte wants us to know he likes the Internet just fine -- as long as no one uses it to do anything of which he disapproves. "The Internet has transformed the way we communicate, how we work, the things we buy and the way we buy them," he says. It "has created thousands of new businesses, tens of thousands of new jobs and made our lives more efficient." But, it also has brought "some unfortunate challenges," such as online gambling, the prohibition of which "is a critical first step in eliminating this scourge."

Given how people who are not Goodlatte actually use the Internet, it is striking that his list of benefits does not include any reference to entertainment. According to Goodlatte, communicating, working, buying, creating businesses and jobs and increasing efficiency are all well and good. But anything that is simply fun should be viewed with suspicion, since it could turn out to be an "unfortunate challenge" or, worse, a "scourge."

One man's scourge, of course, is another's weekend diversion. The fact that some people have trouble keeping this diversion in its proper place does not justify banning it, any more than the fact that some people indulge in excessive drinking, snacking, shopping, jogging and TV-watching justifies banning those activities.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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