Federalism Doesn't Stop at the Online Poker Table

Federalism Doesn't Stop at the Online Poker Table

The trouble with being an actor is that you have to remember your lines. The trouble with being a political actor is that that you have to make the new lines fit with all the other lines you’ve delivered in the past. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) is running into this very problem on the issue of Internet gaming.

Mr. Heller’s record in the House and the Senate has tracked largely conservative. He voted against the bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry. He opposed ObamaCare, saying that those who voted for it “stood up for political buyoffs and special deals that benefit a small few…”

In a recent interview, Senator Heller stated his opposition to President Obama’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage. He argued that it should be left up to the states saying, “I think its wrong when the city of New York has the same minimum wage as Elko does or for that matter Los Angeles or somewhere else.”

Yet it seems the good Senator’s support for federalism stops there. Calling it the “wild wild west” of gambling, Heller is promising to introduce legislation to trump states that have legalized online gaming with a federal prohibition. It seems that state laboratories for democracy are good only until they begin to affect the home town industry.

Heller half heartedly points to potential undefined “social ills” but then confesses that “I think the devastation for bricks and mortar (casinos) in this state…would be just a final nail…” Senator Heller’s position and rhetoric mirrors that of the largest donor to his election to the Senate who also happens to be the largest opponent of Internet gambling. Sheldon Adelson is reported to have spent upwards of $7 million on the race between Heller and his opponent Shelly Berkley. Mr. Adelson is also funding a coalition aimed at passing a federal prohibition on online gaming.

The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling has launched a fear based campaign featuring such over the top slogans as “click your mouse, lose your house.” Yet, like Senator Heller, the coalition provides little substantiation for their wild claims. The reality is that what Senator Heller and the most vocal opponents of internet gaming fear the most is competition.

It is easy to see why. Morgan Stanley reports that in a few years, online gaming will produce the same amount of revenue as all of the casinos in Las Vegas combined. Such projections call for innovation and adaptation, not government intervention; a fact that is not lost on a majority of Las Vegas casinos. Ironically, the two owners that have publicly invested the most in supporting free market policies and politicians are the lone voices seeking government intervention. The rest of the industry seems to be salivating at the prospect of free market evolutions in gaming.

There is little difference between the type of legislation being touted by Senator Heller and the legislation he himself labeled special deals that benefit a few.  The Coalition’s position is the moral equivalent to the bookstores of old lobbying Congress to ban Amazon. Any legislation that would trump states’ rights is an affront to federalism and should be anathema to any conservative. Worse, any legislation that would outlaw otherwise legal behavior to benefit so few people is pure cronyism. 


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