While Sarbanes-Oxley probably takes the prize for most destructive law passed under the Bush Administration, today’s signing into law of the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” is in the running for the stupidest law. Slipped into the homeland security appropriations bill because it couldn’t pass on its own merits, I predict that that enforcing this law will quickly become an exercise in futility, not to mention a waste of law enforcement resources. Of course, it’s not like law enforcement has anything better to do.
First, some “full disclosure.” I play poker online at home, and will continue to do so. Congress will get the mouse out of my hand when they pry it from my cold dead fingers. Yet I take my poker seriously, have learned how to win, and have built up some funds in my account at the site I play at. Thus, since I won’t have to transfer any funds (unless I have a terrible run of cards) I doubt this will effect me all that much.
Okay, now on to why this law is just stupid. Internet gambling is a billion-dollar business, and lots of Americans love to do it. Thus, if you think there aren’t a bevy of lawyers already scouring the law looking for loopholes, then you are just as stupid as the law. Markets are very dynamic, and they often find ways around laws and regulations, especially when so much money is at stake.
I’ve read the law (go here, type in HR 4411, and select the “Bill Number” option) and it appears that it only applies to transactions where one of the parties to the transaction is in the U.S. Thus, it seems as though I can’t use my bank to send funds to a gambling site in, say, Costa Rica. But what would prevent me from sending funds from my bank to an online account service that is located outside the U.S., and then using the funds in that account to pay an internet gambling site?
Perhaps I’m wrong on that, and if there is someone who is more familiar with the law, please feel free to correct me in the comments section. But even if I’m wrong on that, how would the U.S. Government be able to enforce it? Ban all transactions from U.S. financial institutions to any foreign financial institution that does business with an online gambling site? Good luck with that. Maybe come up with a list of foreign online account services that are known for doing an inordinate amount (however that will be defined) of business with online gambling sites, and forbid U.S. financial institutions from doing business with any institution on the list? Once a business is on the list, the proprietors will simply start up a new one under a different name.
Finally, keep in mind that I’m just one person without a law degree coming up with these ideas. I can only imagine what the folks who do have law degrees and work on this full time are coming up with.
That the sponsors of this law didn’t think about that shows just how stupid this law is. Indeed, if stupidity were water, this law would float every riverboat casino in the world.