You have often read in this space of the advance in our lives of the tyranny of the nanny state. The methods of the nanny state are many but her intent can be summed up thusly down through the years: You, the American people -- you who created the world's longest-surviving constitutional republic; you whose industry has made you an economic giant; you whose love of freedom has spread that gift to millions of people around the world -- you no longer know what's good for you.
Our governmental nanny, who feeds off the shavings from the U.S. Constitution, first reared her ugly head noticeably during the administration of her most willing consort, Franklin D. Roosevelt. His many New Deal policies wreaked havoc on the notion of the proud, self-sufficient Yankee; a man who, up until then, was generally capable of providing for his and his family's future without compulsory federal interference.
From there, the nanny decreed that we were also incapable of educating our own children, directing the conduct of our businesses and the stewardship of our own private property. But in recent years, she has fattened up on more judicial table-droppings to become a priggish nag, one who wishes also to shape our moral conduct. Eager Democrats and now even Republicans do her bidding; slapping huge "sin" taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gasoline, they seek to hinder the former, adult pleasures of smoking, drinking, and driving.
And now, by a vote of 317 to 93, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that seeks to curb or eliminate the practice of Internet wagering by blocking the use of credit card and wire-transfer transactions. Supporters of the bill call online betting the "crack cocaine" of gambling, an immoral practice that constitutes a threat to "the children." At least we are spared the lament that it targets the middle class or worse, the "poorest among us."
No, that distinction would be reserved for the kinds of gambling conveniently exempted from the bill; horseracing, domestic casinos, and state-sponsored lottery games. Take a trip as I did last weekend to New York, to enjoy the sport of kings in Queens at beautiful Belmont Park, or to your nearest casino, where you'll be surrounded by real middle-class Americans. But better yet, stroll into your neighborhood convenience store and observe who is spending a goodly part of their paychecks chasing the big bonanzas touted by their own state governments.
The promise of prosperity to low-salaried workers, immigrants, and senior citizens used to be the engine that drove the nanny-state limo -- it was for them that wealthier Americans had to pay the fare. Now, the few cents a week they used to give to their local numbers-runner have morphed into a billion dollar business, courtesy of the myriad offers of untold riches at the end of the state lottery rainbow.
The lotto menu of my own state of Connecticut offers Powerball, Classic Lotto, Cash5, Mid-Day3, Mid-Day4, Play3 and Play4; not to mention 115 instant scratch-off games with names like Hot 777 and, more appropriately, Lightning Bolt Bingo. There are currently 41 such states whose lottery-type games raked in a cool $49 billion in 2004 alone, with the green eye-shaded nannies banking nearly one-third of the revenue.
Which brings us to the real reason for the bill to curtail online gambling: "This year alone, Americans will send $5.9 billion to unregulated, offshore, online casinos." They say that the law is a jealous mistress, but our nanny is much more covetous; of untaxed profits, that is. The fact that these companies are foreign and on the Internet is what most galls our government bookmakers. The thought of a pie into which they cannot insert their greedy fingers is a real challenge to them; thus this bill and future attempts to milk the online cash cow. So, you've got to be in it to win it, just as long as the government gets its share.
Your good old-fashioned neighborhood bookie has been harassed and jailed as an immoral blight on the purity of the nanny state, while our surrogate mother herself continues to suck the blood out of her poorest citizens. Suggesting that morality enters into this question is a farce; the only thing immoral to the nanny state is when she is denied her pound of flesh in the form of her sacred scrip: tax dollars.
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