Jacob Sullum

Bharara's indictment also mentions "the laws of other states," a few of which do explicitly ban online poker. But it is bizarre to give those laws nationwide force, such that the federal government closes down a poker site's entire American operation because Washington state does not want its residents to play the game online. If respecting a particular state's paternalistic policies were the goal, blocking access by people in that state would be a more sensible solution.

Bharara takes an alleged New York misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and turns it into multiple federal felonies -- including UIGEA violations, money laundering, wire fraud and bank fraud -- that could send the lead defendant, PokerStars CEO Isai Scheinberg, to prison for 65 years, assuming that Scheinberg is foolish enough to set foot in the U.S. and hardy enough to reach the age of 129. Based on the same allegations, Bharara is also seeking billions of dollars in asset forfeitures.

The fraud charges are especially dubious, since they stem from various tricks the poker companies and their payment processors allegedly used to conceal the nature of their transactions from U.S. banks. The banks did not suffer any losses as a result of this purported fraud -- to the contrary, they earned millions of dollars in transfer fees.

More important than the question of whether Bharara can win this case is the question of why on earth he brought it to begin with. Is there so little real crime in the Southern District of New York that Bharara feels free to waste taxpayer money on a pointless puritanical crusade?

Jacob Sullum

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