The Bove and Rhodes Report
Insight on computers and media | by Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes | Jan. 13, 1997

Born a Gamblin' Man

Do you like to gamble? Do you ever visit Las Vegas? Do you care that millions of people go there to lose money and have a good time while doing it?

Do you have kids? If so, do you let them use credit cards or open bank accounts without your approval?

These are pertinent questions because unregulated gambling has arrived on the Internet, and already the righteous are screaming for censorship, claiming that kids will gamble all their money away.

Much of the gambling on the Web is not yet profitable -- not many people trust unregulated gambling sites that could be rigged. Even if the word-of-mouth power of the Internet can separate the real from the ripoff, you still have to give the site your credit card number, or open an account in a bank in the country hosting the site.

So far, the only effect of these sites has been to stir up the irrational forces of law enforcement and politics. Last year, the U.S. Congress set up a National Gaming Commission to look at the effects of gambling. What a waste of money! We already know the effects of gambling as a habit. As an industry, it is responsible for Nevada's fantastic rate of population growth.

The forces of law and order in this country are not just irrational, they are dangerous. The National Association of Attorneys General, perhaps the most powerful and influential lobbying group for law enforcement in the country, says that the best way to combat illegal gambling is to arrest people in their homes.

In their homes!

Can you believe it? Play the Liechtenstein Lottery in your living room, and go to jail. Cash in at the Antiqua online casino, owned by the British Commonwealth, and answer the loud knock at your door. Will they also arrest Queen Elizabeth II, the official head of state for Antiqua?

Some law enforcement agencies want to indict telephone companies for criminal conspiracy in allowing people to connect to Internet gambling sites. Why leave out the cable companies? Why not indict the air itself, as it is possible to connect via wireless methods?

The one rule of law enforcement that comes to mind is this: declare something illegal, and it becomes a source of revenue.

The bottom line for law enforcement is that if that the more intrusive the organizations are into our personal lives, the more funding they get for overtime pay, surveillance equipment, extra personnel, and so on.

After all this is properly funded, the next step is investment in the booming business of building prisons, where prisoners are routinely overcharged for phone calls and necessities, and the skim goes right back to the law enforcement agencies, usually in the form of some "prisoner improvement fund" that actually benefits the guards.

The argument that children may somehow gamble on these sites is ludicrous. How often do your children use credit cards and open bank accounts in foreign countries? It is every parent's responsibility to keep their children away from bad Web sites, just as it is to keep them away from crack houses.

In fact, if there really was some concern about the safety of children among these law enforcement agencies, guns would have been banned long ago, and jobs would have been created for teenagers who otherwise have no hope of surviving the ghettos. The drug war would not be lining the pockets of pushers, politicians, and the police.

What does any of this have to do with technology or commerce on the Internet? Just this: if the law enforcement agencies have stuck their heads this far up their assholes, don't trust them with any other moral or ethical issues, such as controlling pornography on the net or prosecuting copyright violations. Don't trust them with encryption policy, either.

Think of the law enforcement lobby as the enemy. Not the individual cops and prosecutors, but the organization itself, because intrusion is its goal. This is the "establishment" the hippies warned us about.

And now I have to go answer the loud knock on my door. Better quit my browser first, and erase those cookies...

-- Tony Bove, Jan. 13, 1997. Comments?

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Copyright © 1997 Tony Bove and Cheryl Rhodes