Friday, November 16, 2007

Governor Patrick goes too far on casino bill

I haven't completely decided whether or not I think casino gambling in Massachusetts is a great idea. I tend to think that opening one or more casinos would probably be in the state's best interest--that the rewards would outweigh the risks--but it's possible that someone might talk me out of it.

But regardless of my soft support for the concept of casinos, I cannot support Governor Patrick's version of the bill. The part of the bill that puts me over the edge--and the part that should worry both gamblers and non-gamblers alike--is this little tidbit the Globe uncovered earlier this week:
Even as Governor Deval Patrick seeks to license three resort casinos in Massachusetts, he hopes to clamp down on the explosion in Internet gambling by making it illegal for state residents to place a bet on line. He has proposed jail terms of up to two years and $25,000 fines for violators.

The provision, buried deep in Patrick's bill to allow three casinos to the state, puts the governor at odds with a fellow Democrat: US Representative Barney Frank, the sponsor of federal legislation to license and regulate online gambling nationally. Yesterday Frank strongly criticized the governor's plan to punish online gamers while inviting casino operators to set up shop.

"Why is gambling in a casino OK and gambling on the Internet is not?" Frank said. "He's making a big mistake. He's giving opponents an argument against him."
He's also giving his supporters an argument against him. Many of the folks who would support the opening of casinos in the state also gamble online. I play poker online. Not a ton, but I have an account with a poker site and play five-dollar games and tournaments every once in a while. I'll be damned if I'm going to be fined or sent to jail because I want to play cards online.

But more than just the selfish argument that I don't want one of my forms of entertainment taken away, I don't want the government making those decisions for me. Congressman Frank is right. It is hypocritical and invasive for the state to decide that any behavior is OK if it is done in a state-sponsored venue, but illegal in the privacy of my own home. It would be like allowing smoking only in government buildings or state-sponsored smoke houses, but not in one's residence.

Patrick's proposal has led me and others like Harvey Silvergate to wonder if the governor's form of "liberalism" leaves "liberty" out of the equation:
Far from taking a pro-liberty position, it appears that Patrick’s support for casino development in this state is premised entirely on the real or imagined economic benefits – and specifically the taxes and other revenue the state would be pocketing, at least at the start, from introducing casinos....

This kind of unprincipled pragmatism – which rejects the necessity of certain liberties, like the liberty to engage in private gambling even in the shadow of glitzy, state-sponsored public gambling – gives the committed civil libertarian pause about how extensive Governor Patrick’s commitment to freedom is.
Governor Patrick should remove the online gambling prohibition from his casino proposal. Failing that, the legislature should either reject the proposal altogether, or pass their own version of a casino bill which protects individual liberties.

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