In a country where other types of gambling are permitted, there is no moral argument for excluding this kind. But gambling critics depict the Internet as a dark abyss leading the unwary to their doom -- "the 'perfect storm' of harm," according to the group Stop Predatory Gambling. By making access so easy, we are told, virtual wagering will create hordes of new gambling addicts.
It's easy to forget that in the old days, opponents denounced casinos for luring bettors into dimly lit bunkers where they would fall victim to card sharps, leggy waitresses and rivers of booze. Now the same opponents suggest that Luxor Las Vegas is far safer than that den of vice you call home.
But the fears about online wagering are demonstrably bogus. Britain legalized Internet betting in 2005, and the government's 2007 survey found that while 68 percent of Brits place bets each year, only 0.6 percent of the population falls into the category of "problem" gamblers. That number has not budged since 1999.
In the end, there is no good reason for the federal government to prohibit citizens from engaging in a peaceful, popular and enjoyable activity that almost all of them can handle responsibly. Nor is there any point, since those citizens are going to do it anyway. Congress would be wise to accept that age-old reality and settle for harvesting the tax revenues Internet betting can generate.
Maybe it would be the start of something even bigger. After all, it's not every day you hear congressional Democrats making the case for more freedom and less government. When Barney Frank acts on the view that "most actions the government should stay out of," it would be a shame to stand in his way.
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