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Internet Gambling Ban a Losing Bet For Liberty

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Controversies over surveillance of President Trump and members of his administration, including the leaks that forced President Trump’s first National Security Advisor to resign, have brought new attention to Section 702 of the FISA Reform Act. Section 702, which was added to the law in 2008, authorizes wiretapping of “non-U.S.” persons. The statue explicitly forbids the “intentional” targeting of U.S. citizens, but allows agencies to collect information on U.S. citizens if it is “incidental” to a 702 investigation.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has exploited the “incidental” loophole to turn Section 702 into a routinely-used justification for wiretapping America citizens, including General Michael Kelly and (allegedly) other members of Donald Trump's campaign staff and transition team.

Given the way the federal snoop state uses every inch of (unconstitutional) power granted them to take a mile of liberty, the last thing Congress should do is pass legislation giving the surveillance state a new excuse to spy on us -- especially if the legislation also violates the Tenth Amendment. Yet Congress will do just that if it listens to the special interests pushing the Restoration of Americas’ Wireless Act (RAWA).

RAWA makes online gaming a federal crime. Thus, it gives federal agents another excuse to monitor our Internet usage. Those tempted to say, “I don’t gamble online, so I have no need to worry,” should ask themselves what if their name appeared in the email contacts of friends or relatives who gambled online. Individuals may also be targeted if their browsing habits match that of a “profile” of an online gambler.

One of the justifications for RAWA is the claim that Internet gaming sites are controlled by drug cartels and terrorists groups. This claim gives law enforcement all the justification it needs to bring the full weight of the post-9-11-surveillance state down on those suspected of gambling online.

The irony of this argument is if Congress passes RAWA, they would be helping terrorists and other criminals. Criminalizing online gaming is not going stop individuals from seeking out opportunities to gamble online, any more than prohibition stopped people from wanting to drink alcoholic beverages. Instead, just as prohibition lead to the rise of organized crime, banning online gambling will ensure that only criminals (and terrorists) will run online casinos.

In contrast, if Congress leaves regulation of Internet gambling to individual states and the free-market, websites owned and operated by legal casinos would likely dominate the online gaming market. In order to avoid any legal troubles, as well as bad public relations, these sites would likely use technology that enables them to identify those prohibited from gambling online. Those who support RAWA should ask themselves who is more likely to use this technology: a website controlled by legal casinos who want to stay within the boundaries of the law or an offshore website controlled by a drug cartel or a terrorist organization?

Even if this technology did not exist, the Constitution does not grant Congress any authority regarding any type of gaming, and the Tenth Amendment does not expand Congressional power to create new federal crimes in order to “protect” state laws. In fact, the idea that federalism requires federal action to ensure one state’s laws do not interfere with laws in other states turns federalism on its head! This “bizarro federalism” promoted by RAWA supporters could be used to justify other expansions of federal power, including new gun control laws.

Federal laws outlawing Internet gambling are also incompatible with the fundamental principles of a free society. Gambling is a peaceful activity that does not violate anyone’s rights. Therefore, the government has no legitimate reason to forbid adults from gambling online. This is not to say that gambling is a good thing, only that government force should not be used to discourage it.

RAWA usurps state authority over gambling in order to further empower the surveillance state to snoop into our personal lives. Instead of ending online gaming, RAWA guarantees the online gambling marketplace will be dominated by criminals. Congress should reject RAWA rather than gamble our liberties away.

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