[Cal here, chiping away at a long weekend---]
Did you hear that there was a hearing in Congress this past week about Internet gambling? The hearing was called by the head of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers (D-MI), and its intent was to look into allegations that last year's UIGEA was an example, more or less, of bad law. Despite the fact that the hearing received very little advance press, both sides brought out an array of their heavy hitters in an attempt to get their thoughts on the matter before Congress.
When all was said and done, the hearing provided several signature moments. Department of Justice official Katherine Hanaway was forced to place herself in a verbal Catch-22 regarding the legality of online poker (short version: it is); a representative of the Family Research Council was more or less outed as being a fringe element, and out of a strong lineup of prominent voices testifying on behalf of online gambling, it was Annie Duke who received some of the highest marks. While often a lightning rod for comments from other players and fans, the outspoken Duke has been one of the loudest public voices in efforts made against the UIGEA. Duke spoke as a representative of the Poker Players Alliance and is a true Poker Star.
Duke cited, among other arguments, the concern over civil-liberties violations: "Having the right to continue to pursue my profession, wherever I might choose to pursue it, is very important to me from both a financial standpoint, but also from the broader perspective of freedom, personal responsibility and civil liberties."
Duke had plenty of support on her side of the argument, of course. Among those also testifying from a general "pro-gambling" viewpoint were Congressman Shelley Berkley (D-NV), who as a legislator from a pro-gambling state railed against the hypocritical, discriminatory nature of the UIGEA, and Michael Colopy of Aristotle, Inc., a leading designer of software algorithms designed, among other things, to prevent underage play. Colopy testified about the capabilities of modern identity-verification software, indirectly contradicting the lines often peddled by anti-gambling fanatics about underage players running rampant with their parents' credit cards were likely unfounded. (Again, the short version: The technology to effectively block the vast majority of underage players not only already exists, but if sites were properly regulated, it would most certainly be used.)
In a similar way, Joseph Heiler, from New York University's Hauser Global Law School, gave expert testimony on how badly the UIGEA serves the U.S.'s international trade responsibilities; not only is the U.S. already in violation, as was determined in the WTO decision with Antigua, the UIGEA flagrantly compounds the problem. He noted that the U.S.'s announced plan to withdraw its WTO commitments regarding the gambling sector was a dangerous precedent, in that it gave all other countries (notably China) good cause to similarly ignore international trade judgments.
Perhaps the best moments, though, were those offered from the other side. Rep. Bob Goodlatte was on hand for another of his surreal outbursts. As picked up by several outlets, Goodlatte declared that there was no wagering in fantasy sports and that's why America's youths are allowed to participate in it. In what, fantasy sports? Sports in general? Another great Goodlatte moment occurred when he stated that the U.S. never intended to included online gambling as part of its WTO obligations, despite ample evidence to the contrary. This revisionist history is the party line that's been spouted by the U.S. Trade Representative throughout the entire WTO process.
Hands down, though, the best moments went to Bob McClusky, the Family Research Council's vice president of governmental affairs. A solid piece of Salon.com replayed this exchange between McClusky and Rep. Steve Cohen:
COHEN: Do you think that horse racing and dog racing and lotteries should be legal in the United States?
MCCLUSKY: Are you asking me?
COHEN: Yes, you personally.
MCCLUSKY: The Family Research Council does believe that such things should be illegal.
COHEN: So it is really not the Internet you are against. It is gambling in general. Is that right?
MCCLUSKY: Yes, that would be true, or at least unrestricted gambling such as we have with the Internet or other.
COHEN: But the lottery is restricted. You can't play if you are a child. Same thing with horse racing. But you are against that, are you not?
COHEN: So restricted or unrestricted, you are against it?
COHEN: Is there any fun that you are for?
That says it all, doesn't it?