Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank has been repeatedly quoted to the effect that "Why anyone thinks it is any of my business why some adult wants to gamble is absolutely beyond me."
That's a praiseworthy pronouncement. So is another time-tested Frank soundbite: "I spend a lot of my time trying to protect people from other people who are trying to treat them unfairly."
Would that Frank's Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act of 2007, introduced Thursday, was a worthy product of the man issuing either statement. Alas, given the proposed Act's content, Frank may well have been talking about U. S. financial institutions when he made the second statement - rather than the nation's sporting public. Gaming shares on the London exchange were broadly abused following the unveiling of the particulars of the Frank bill, and kneejerk market reaction to such a legislative rollout is typically dead-on. So many expected something so much different, not the least Antigua, who have battled the U. S. successfully (theoretically) in World Trade Organization wrangling over online gaming, though they're having considerable difficulty persuading the U. S. to smell the coffee.
The hoped-for push for repeal of last fall's UIGEA, passed under the counter, in the shadows, with less-than-zero public support, turned out to be overoptimistic fantasy. At least Rep. Frank came across in broad daylight, anticipating meaningful debate, rather than ex-Sen. "Stock? In trust? Sold? I didn't know!" Frist. In its place has been unveiled a bill conceived in haste, containing kernels of several ideas taking off in all manner of disappointing directions.
The various opt-out options delineated within the proposed bill essentially doom its legitimate prospects as a game-plan outline. Under its auspices, each individual major sports entity would be given a window of opportunity to withhold its on-field/court product from government-approved gaming usage. Given their consistent pronouncements across the years, it's impossible to conceive that the NFL, the major leagues, or the NCAA football and basketball operations would permit their contests to be formally and officially employed as wagering mediums.
Toss that into the garbage salad with the intended reaffirmation of individual states' right to withhold participation privileges from their citizens, and the good old days of the '70's and '80's, when citizens could and would pick up their phones in a quiet, private way, and call William Hill in Britian, and you can see which way the tide would run if certain interests have their way. Given the bill's current structure, the player is in a position akin to Michael Jordan giving Tiger Woods three strokes a side at Augusta . . . frustrated and beaten before first-tee drives are struck. The proposed Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network? Alas, this position has the threatening potential to solidify all kinds of discretionary injustices. The eligibility requirements for any participating on-line gaming operation should be precisely-defined, and not be subject to any arbitrary thumbs-up/thumbs-down ruling by an individual allowed any favorite- playing elbow room. Filling the post properly would be challenge, enough. It would likely take a gaming-savvy combination of Abe Lincoln and Jesus to make it work. No government lifer would be up to fulfilling the inherent expectations in such a post, and any suitable gaming industry professional leaving the private sector to accept the job for a government salary could well fall prey to the temptations foxes feel in henhouses.
The North American sports bettor's dream government-approved availability profile would be based on the British model, multiple easily accessible walk-in betting shops, with sustained market pressure in place so as to assure most-competitive odds offerings. Vegas is fine and dandy, though it isn't nearly as attractive as it once was. In terms of mature government attitudes towards this entertainment sector, Great Britain is to the United States as Secretariat was to the remainder of the 1973 Belmont Stakes field, and the Frank bill represents no advances advantageous to players. It contains too many inherent assumptions that are essentially self-destructive. Apparently, the only hope for a sophisticated approach is to put a congressional fact finding study group into place, compel legislators to bone up on the crucial points on which any legislation with any hope of longterm success would hinge, and cross your fingers. This would take two years, minimum, and those involved would simply be left to hope that too much damage isn't done, in the interim.