Poker Ban’s Unintended Consequences

Radley Balko observes that the poker ban that Bill Frist stuck into an unrelated port security bill to ensure its passage will almost certainly have exactly the opposite public policy impact touted by its sponsors.

The major gaming sites — that is, the legitimate companies regulated by British law and traded on the London Stock Exchange — announced over the weekend that they’ll cease offering service to U.S. customers the moment President Bush signs the bill.


For all the talk from Sen. Frist, Sen. Kyl, and Rep. Goodlatte about the dangers of this “unregulated” industry, the bill they’ve just passed will actually put the well-regulated gambling sites out of reach of U.S. customers. The end result? Online poker and other gaming sites will soon be even less regulated, more likely to induce children, and more likely to defraud U.S. consumers than ever before. Meanwhile, one of the most addictive forms of gambling — state lotteries — will soon make an en masse move online, thanks to an exemption in the bill that effectively creates an online monopoly for them.

In short, in an intrusive, big government effort to protect Americans from themselves, Congress has passed a futile, hypocritical, counter-productive, protectionist piece of legislation that will make it more difficult for millions of Americans to engage in an activity most participate in responsibly and moderately. For those people, the bill will probably work. But it’ll do little to prevent problem gambling, children’s access to gaming sites, or online fraud.

Despicable. And yet another reason for libertarian minded Republicans to be glad when Frist is gone.

Perhaps Steve Bainbridge and others are right. With each passing scandal, intrusion into our liberty, and billion in pork spending, it gets harder to make the case that the Republicans deserve to hold onto power.

Really, the only claim the GOP has at this point is that they’re better on security issues. It’s bad enough to exploit the public’s fear of terrorism to create unnecessary programs and ignore Constitutional protections in the name of “security.” To use that fear as a means of advancing pork barrel spending and advancing an unpopular social agenda, though, is loathsome.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Terrorism, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lily says:

    I’m not sure how one can continue to support the theme that Republicans are better on security, either given the NIE report, the proof now revealed that Rice, Ashcroft and others were warned very directly by Tenet of an imminent attack and did nothing, and the effects on Iran, North Korea and Egypt of Bush’s mindlessly belligerent rhetoric. We’ve had a spectacular net loss in security as a result of Republican leadership. The three items I listed are just the obvious examples.
    The Republican claim to superiority in defense has always been a myth. Mostly it comes from the claims that we could have won Viet Nam. Well maybe if we had killed a million more civilians we could have imposed a dictatorship there. Of course we would have needed to keep troops there indefinitely to prop the dictatorship up…and all for what? The people who wanted to “win’ weren’t concerned with any legitimate military or foreign policy goal: they just wanted the vanity of feeling like winners. It isn’t a point of view that is strong on defense; it’s just strong on vanity. After all, the basic assumptions that got us into Viet Nam were wrong. We were not fighting for democracy. Viet Nam was not trying to take over SE Asia. The northern government was no worse than the southern one. You can’t win a war in any legitimate sense if you haven’t got anything but raw bloody domination to fight for.
    The second prop for the strong on security theme is the belief that Reagan’s out-of-control pork barrel military spending destabilized the USSR. There is probably some truth in this, but, of course, the Russians had a lot more to do with it than us.
    The last prop of the Republicans-are-strong thing is condemnation of Democrats based on something someone said back in the seventies. Stereotypes of the thinking of people who aren’t elected anyway.
    Other than that the Republicans have nothing to show that they are better on defence. It’s just one of those slogans like claiming to support family values or being the culture of life party.

  2. legion says:

    Better on security issues?!? Only if you’re a member of the Bin Laden clan…

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    I keep hearing this nonsense about why the Republicans shouldn’t hold power. They intrude into out personal lives, they spend too much, they aren’t true conservatives. It’s all true. They suck and they need to get back on track. But…

    People forget the Democrats will be worse. More government programs will force their way into our personal lives, taxes and spending would rise, liberalism with all it’s political correctness and moral relativism would ruin our children.

    As usual the choice is a lesser of evils. That’s real politics. There are no perfect candidates or perfect parties so look at your options and hold your nose when you vote.

  4. legion says:

    People forget the Democrats will be worse.

    That’s a fine piece of “conventional wisdom”, Steven, but considering the vast number of their of core principles the GOP has completely folded on & abject failures they’ve presided over since taking power, I don’t see how your words connect to reality.

    The planning of the Iraq campaign (whether or not the campaign itself was a good idea). The management of contracts related to rebuilding Iraq. Securing our ports. Keeping our budget out of free-fall. Basic contract oversight. Not losing an entire major city to a hurricane. All these things, and many more, could have been avoided by the single, solitary, simple action of:
    appointing vaguely competent people to the jobs instead of talentless political hacks.

    That’s something the GOP have made abundantly clear – nay, they are proud of it! – that they will _never_ do.

  5. madmatt says:

    It was a favor to the banking/credit industry so that they no longer had to pay for client losses….just another handout/ piece of corporate welfare for the only industry to get the US govt as a enforcer thanks to the bankruptcy bill

  6. >Really, the only claim the GOP has at this
    >point is that they’re better on security

    In what sense are they better on security issues? Because they talk about it more? The Republicans don’t really take it any more seriously than the Democrats too. Just look at Iraq. A party that really believed it was the ‘central front in the war on terror’ would be doing everything it could to win there.

    Instead we have a party in total denial. It’s obvious to anyone who cares to study it that our current strategy is failing. Instead of correcting what we’re doing wrong, the Republicans stubbornly insist we keep following this strategy without any deviation as though it will magically start working if we simply want it hard enough.

    This is a party that’s more concerned with being right than with winning a war. In my book that doesn’t make them very good on security issues. It will take more than good intentions to win the war on terror, and the Republicans completely incompetent execution is hurting us just as much as doing nothing.

  7. Steven Plunk says:


    The reality that my words connect to can first be observed by the basic stand on issues each party holds. Certain “conventional wisdom” points such as Dems being more aligned with big labor, Dems more in favor of increased spending on social program, Dems being more inclined to grants rights to non-citizens, Dems favoring government planning over free market mechanisms, Dems essential belief that government can solve almost all problems.

    Like I said, the complaints about Republicans are true. Some of that is lack of discipline and some of that can be traced to the compromises of politics. By making noise the conservatives in the party can move them back toward the proper positions but voting them out moves the country in exactly the wrong direction.

    A rational voter would be wise to look at the party platforms and positions on issues and vote according to those. It is irrational to vote against them because they are not conservative enough and deserve punishment. Punishment is not what our political system should be about. It should be about which candidate represents our views best.

    I would rather have a wishy washy conservative Republican than a disciplined, principled socialist. It isn’t great but it is what it is.

  8. When I went into the gas station this morning to pick up a cup of coffee, I saw the manager taping a brand new hand-lettered sign to the counter that said “NO CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED FOR LOTTERY TICKET PURCHASES”. He smiled ruefully and said, “New law.”

    I’m a project manager, software developer, and former QA lead. The first thing I see in any given proposal is where the edge cases lie, and how those could be used to circumvent the proposal’s intent. So I asked the manager the first thing that came to my mind.

    “Do you accept *debit* cards for lottery tickets?”

    “Yes,” he responded.

    So perhaps the ban isn’t quite a gambling-prohibition maneuver at this point, but more of a gesture.

  9. M1EK says:

    “People forget the Democrats will be worse.”

    Steven obviously subscribes non-ironically to the headline of the famous Onion Article “Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over”

  10. spencer says:

    Democrats will be worse on security:

    Look at the record:
    We are losing the war on terror because of Bush’s incompetence.

    Clinton’s actions in Yugoslavia– or whatever–
    were successful.

    Reagan cut and ran in Lebanon

    Nixon pulled the troops out of Vietnam.

    Ike settled for a draw in Korea.

    FDR won WW II.

    Wilson won WW I.

    McKinley won the Spanish-American war.

    So you have to go back over a century to find a republican that actually won.

    Boy, never confuse you with the facts.

    I know, you are going to claim Reagan won the cold war. He didn’t do anything different from what ever cold war president had done, he continued to implement the containment policy that was started under Truman. So he spent some more on the military, but as a share of GDP his military budget was smaller then every cold war administration but Carter. Moreover, the pressure on the soviet economy from Reagan’s extra military spending was offset by his negotiating arms reductions. Reagan did recognize that the new leadership in the USSR was ready to change the system and worked with them to implement these changes. That was a fantastic achievement and he deserves great praise for that. But also remember almost every conservative opposed these moves at the time.

  11. floyd says:

    the democrats will continue to provide the “case” for the republicans grip on power, deserved or otherwise!this is most unfortunate.

  12. Chet Morrison says:

    I am puzzled why anyone with the barest vestiges of libertarian leanings would defend the pathetic hacks that the republicans have become. There are libertarian candidates who do run, you know

  13. James Joyner says:

    Chet: Because, as hackish as many in the GOP are, they’re at least potentially electable. The Libertarian Party is simply too whacky to attract more than a tiny fringe of the electorate. So to break the news.