Any resident of the DC-area has undoubtedly seen from afar or been in the new billion-dollar MGM National Harbor Casino. When I see it, I am reminded of how it was only a few decades ago that an overlapping array of state and federal laws essentially restricted gambling to just New Jersey’s Atlantic City on the East Coast and Nevada’s Las Vegas on the West Coast.
Times are different now, as many states have slowly increased their gambling offerings ranging from almost ubiquitous state-run lotteries to legalized private institutional or personal gambling. The Internet age has also dramatically changed the possibilities for gambling, as well as potential controversies.
In recent years we’ve seen how a variety of new online gaming ventures have launched, ranging from fantasy sports companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel to more straightforward gambling services such as online poker. We’ve also seen how states have frequently regulated them haphazardly and inconsistently, at times outlawing them and at times permitting them under certain exceptions.
Nonetheless, the rise of the Internet has undoubtedly made gambling easier for everyone to partake in. While not everyone may enjoy or support gambling, as a free and open society gambling still ought to be an activity that is generally permitted among willing parties.
Legislative efforts remain extremely volatile concerning one of the world’s oldest recreational activities’ incarnation in the modern digital age. At the moment a variety of states have legalized or explored legalizing various forms of online gambling in a modern manifestation of the Founders’ wish for the states to be experimental testing grounds for new policies.
However, there also is a bill in Congress that wishes to end this state experimentation and essentially outlaw all online gambling, called the “Restoration of America’s Wire Act” (RAWA).
Such a proposal not only is detrimental to allowing the gambling industry to modernize and innovate with the Internet’s help, but also is against the spirit of federalism and free competition that our country’s policymaking system is based on.
Whatever one’s personal inclination is towards gambling, it is generally considered acceptable enough of an activity to permit states to decide their own individual appetites for it, rather than artificially restricting it to just a few select regions of the country.
Furthermore, many states across the country already have legalized forms of online gambling and are deriving significant economic activity from it as well. To suddenly declare such activities illegal, as the RAWA would do, would be needlessly disruptive to many ordinary Americans for little economic or moral purpose.
Some lawmakers, such as Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Congressman Fitzpatrick (R-PA), are even trying to find other ways to have the DOJ enforce an online gambling ban on the states through means such as appropriations amendments or even a unilateral executive branch policy.
Online gambling is an activity that countless millions of Americans already enjoy and millions more want to explore or at least permit. One of the central tenants of America’s philosophy of liberty is that a business ought to be allowed as long as it does not hurt others, and online gambling is precisely such an activity.
If we restrict online gambling with little economic or constitutional justification, our country will be depriving our citizens of a valuable recreational and business activity at a time when our economy is constantly looking for new industries to replace rapidly declining older ones.
The Internet has disrupted and transformed many industries over the past two decades. Gambling is finally entering the Internet age as well, but to do so it needs to escape the shackles of outdated perceptions, regulatory inconsistency, and federal overreaching.
Were Congress to essentially outlaw the online gambling industry, it would halt our technological progress in that sector as well as deeply stifle future innovation in gambling as well.
By continuing to allow states to decide whether they wish to permit online gambling, Congress can strike a happy balance where each state will be allowed to determine for itself whether it wishes to permit its citizens to engage in this activity. Only such a policy would be consistent with the principles of federalism, liberty, and opportunity.