Protectionism or Principle?

Sen. Harry Reid has an interesting stance on the recently passed anti-gambling bill, as the gambling lobby prepares to reverse its fortunes with one of Nevada’s senators as Senate Majority Leader:

“I have said on many occasions that I don’t believe in Internet gambling,” Reid said in a meeting with reporters, adding he’d be open to looking at the results of a study on it.

“I know that people say it can be controlled, I just have extreme doubts that it can be. But I’ll be happy to look at the study. I’m not going to turn my head and say never, never.”

We could get to the underlying principle of liberty, in which consenting adults spend their money as they see fit, in a way that harms only themselves, if even that. Since Senator Reid doesn’t believe in Internet gambling, the unprincipled moral position is correct. Wonderful, but rather than asking for studies that suggest Internet gambling isn’t bad, Senator Reid should produce the studies that convinced him that it is bad. Perhaps something a little more compelling than extreme doubts.

I don’t expect a fruitful two years ahead for liberty.

State lotteries are free to corrupt

We all know that Congress wants to protect us from ourselves, even when we’re not putting ourselves in danger, but shouldn’t someone in power call Rep. Jim Leach on his defense of the online gambling bill?

Proponents of the measure heralded its passage as a victory for family values and a blow against an addictive vice. Jim Leach, the Iowa Republican who sponsored the bill, said it will prevent casinos from further extending their corruptive reach. “Religious leaders of all denominations and faiths are seeing gambling problems erode family values,” Leach said in a statement. “If Congress had not acted, gamblers would soon be able to place bets not just from home computers, but from their cell phones while they drive home from work or their BlackBerries as they wait in line at the movies.”

Two glaring holes in Rep. Leach’s reasoning jump out. First, aside from the silly, meaningless declaration that “gambling problems erode family values,” (“Sorry, son, we don’t have any family values left. Jimmy from down the street, his father has a gambling problem that eroded what we had left. The good news is I needn’t bear responsibility for your well-being. There’s a prostitute in your room, get going.”), he does not provide any data support for his claim that religious leaders are seeing gambling problems. Has he heard from one religious leader from each denomination? A hundred? A thousand? Or is it just a line of unsubstantiated crap that he can throw to his base to encourage them to give Republicans another term of control?

I suspect he has no data, but even if he does, so what? People should be free to spend their money as they see fit. If potential harm dismisses any claim to liberty, why isn’t Congress banning every other activity which could cause harm. Let’s go all the way, because we don’t want to erode family values. People drown in bath tubs. Let’s ban bath oils, which only encourage people to engage in the dangerous activity of taking baths. And showers are out, because people could slip and die. Sponge baths (no tubs or buckets – drowning risk – water faucet only) only.

Second, Rep. Leach’s examples of gambling addiction out of control are lacking. While driving? Seriously? Let localities ban cell phone use while driving if it’s a safety hazard. That’s not a federal issue. And gambling by BlackBerry while waiting in a movie line? Ummm, if the person is so addicted and out of control, how is he able to step away from the BlackBerry gambling long enough to watch a movie? Again, though, if that’s how someone wants to spend his time, so what? Clearly liberty now only extends to the minimum boundaries of what Rep. Leach likes.

Source: Wil Wheaton, blogging at Card Squad

Congress could be where thinking began

Congratulations are in order to the United States Congress. In a bold move of understanding, it stripped a needless provision from the port security bill it passed over the weekend:

Congress is patting itself on the back for passing the Port Security Act last Saturday. But the day before, a House-Senate conference committee stripped out a provision that would have barred serious felons from working in sensitive dock security jobs. Port security isn’t just about checking the contents of cargo containers, it also means checking the background of the 400,000 workers on our docks.

Felons will not be barred from crucial jobs where a reasonable person not using the wonderfully intuitive powers of deductions granted to our smartest leaders might believe that to be a Bad Idea&#153. But leadership involves understanding the full picture of society, those “unintended consequences,” if you will. When viewed together with this provision of the port security deal, the good senators (Sen. Frist, in particular) understood that we wouldn’t want to exclude a significant portion of American adults.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement last night on legislation to tighten maritime and port security regulations and, in a last-minute move, added an unrelated measure that seeks to ban Internet gambling.

The port security and Internet gambling legislation was approved 409 to 2 in the House and on a voice vote in the Senate early today, as lawmakers rushed to leave Washington for their fall reelection campaigns. Senate Republican and Democratic leaders announced it would be passed by voice vote after the House’s late-night vote.

You see, foresight! The Congress knew that many Americans could now become felons for operating a financial institution that offers customers a service they want violating Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s morality funding drugs and terrorism¹! That’s bad, and they should pay the price, but we still need secure ports. We don’t want no stinkin’ foreigners handling that job.

¹ From the Washington Post’s article:

Proponents of the crackdown said the industry, which is mostly based overseas, provides a front for money laundering, some of it by drug sellers and terrorist groups, while preying on children and gambling addicts. Americans bet an estimated $6 billion per year online, accounting for half the worldwide market, according to analysis by the Congressional Research Service.

Am I going too far out on a limb to request that the reporter investigate this claim rather than accepting spoon-fed horseshit from some political hack? I don’t think so.

I’ll stick with blackjack

Really? People are getting worked up oer this device?:

Professional gamblers are rushing to buy £1,000 devices that they believe will enable them to win millions of pounds in casinos when the gambling industry is deregulated next year.

Hundreds of the roulette-cheating machines – which consist of a small digital time recorder, a concealed computer and a hidden earpiece – were tested at a government laboratory in 2004 after a gang suspected of using them won £1.3m at the Ritz casino in London.

After the research, which was never made public but has been seen by the Guardian, the government’s gambling watchdog admitted to industry insiders that the technology can offer punters an edge when playing roulette in a casino, and the advantage can be “considerable”.

Again, really? This is a big deal? Obviously the casinos will boot anyone they deem to be winning in excess, but wouldn’t it be easier to disrupt this scheme by not allowing betting after the dealer spins the wheel? I don’t know gambling law, especially in the U.K., but if betting after the spin is required, I’d work to change the laws if I owned a casino. Aside from banning the device, of course. Which seems to be the case in most places that allow gambling:

But rather than ban the devices, which are outlawed in many jurisdictions across the world, the Gambling Commission will require casinos to police themselves. Phill Brear, the commission’s director of operations, admits predictive softwares can work but suggested it might be possible to prosecute someone using them under a new Gambling Act offence of cheating.

Or more to the point, wouldn’t casinos just work to counter this by repairing or replacing their roulette wheels?

The government’s national weights and measures laboratory investigated the technique. It is thought the cheats first identify a “biased” wheel, where the ball appears to commonly drop in roughly the same zone. They also look for signs on the wheel of a “manageable scatter”, which means that when the ball strikes a certain number, it will usually fall into a neighbouring pocket. The unpublished report concluded: “On a wheel with a definite bias and a manageable scatter, a prediction device of this nature, when operated by a ‘skilled’ roulette player, could obtain an advantage when used in a casino.”

I wouldn’t sound the alarm for casinos going bankrupt just yet. They’ll adapt and the majority of people dropping £1,000 on one of these gadgets will find themselves more than £1,000 poorer. Such is life in a casino.

Source: Boing Boing

Vacation Update

The potential implications of “free” WiFi at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas aside, I’m thrilled that it’s here. I’ve missed catching sports scores and news, although gambling, Penn & Teller, and George Takei made it much easier. There will be more from the trip, but for now I want to post a picture of the reason Danielle and I stopped in Vegas on our way to Seattle.

George Takei

Stories, and maybe a little audio, to follow. Oh, my.

Like making Al Capone your spokesman

I’d like to think that Antigua’s complaint with the World Trade Organization against the United States could encourage the federal government to drop our nonsensical policies surrounding internet gambling (and gambling, in general). It would be great if a quick stroke of the pen could fix our stupidity, but to believe it will is a fantasy. So I put no expectation in the complaint’s prospects. But assuming for a moment that it could change minds in Congress, and acknowledging that normal sanctions by Antigua against the U.S. would be laughable, how does this make any sense?

So the Antiguans plan to ask the WTO for the right to impose sanctions that would hurt — namely, permission to copy and export U.S.-made DVDs, CDs and similar material. Hollywood is not amused.

What kind of connection is that? The U.S. government has an irrational, anti-liberty policy, which it pursues outside the United States, so that entitles Antigua to steal intellectual property from private businesses that have nothing to do with the source of the complaint, other than being (mostly) American? It’s impossible to take their complaint seriously, and I’m on their side. I don’t imagine the fair-minded souls in Congress will care for that recommendation, either. Thanks for standing up for the cause, though.

On a side note, this is amusing:

“Gambling in general, and remote supply of gambling in particular, raises grave law-enforcement and consumer-protection concerns,” the U.S. trade representative’s office said in a legal filing. Attorneys for the trade representative declined to make additional public comments.

Legalizing “local supply” of gambling via the Internets would do a lot to eliminate the “remote supply” concern. I do enjoy that gambling raises grave concerns for law-enforcement before it raises them for the protection of consumers. That’s a good priority list for the government to take. Only the most pro-liberty solution will arise.

Save our souls (and state monopolies)

Congress: Boo yourself!:

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prevent gamblers from using credit cards to bet online and could block access to gambling Web sites.

The legislation would clarify and update current law to spell out that most gambling is illegal online. But there would be exceptions — for state-run lotteries and horse racing — and passage isn’t a safe bet in the Senate, where Republican leaders have not considered the measure a high priority.

The House voted 317-93 for the bill, which would allow authorities to work with Internet providers to block access to gambling Web sites.

Work with is a euphemism for force. Anyone still want to claim that Republicans and Democrats are for economic freedom, and liberty in general? I don’t. Paternalism marches on.

I don’t have any more to say on this bill specifically, but I want to savor the stupidity of this quote:

“Never before has it been so easy to lose so much money so quickly at such a young age,” [Jim Leach, R-Iowa] said.

When will Congress act to outlaw citizens from using credit cards to finance a new business? As a business owner, I could lose everything I own. Won’t you protect me?


Very aggressive. A new day, and you won’t be pushed around.

If only he and his colleagues believed this statement in response to the bill pending in Congress that would criminalize gambling on the Internets by turning financial institutions into a police extension of the state (or is that “extension of the police state”?):

“Adults are entitled to do with their money what they want to do,” [Rep. Barney Frank] said.

I want to retire at fifty, but the government keeps requisitioning 40 percent of my income every year. Am I entitled to stop contributing taxes for government benefits I don’t receive? I can dream.

You are officially never invited to our game again.

Everyone knows by now that poker is exceptionally popular in America now. With an abundance of poker on television and easy availability of poker supplies such as clay chips, anyone can enjoy the game. Few laws seem to object to home games, but most still prohibit organized poker, whether it’s for profit or charity. No matter that it’s a “crime” between consenting players, it’s a vice and is restricted for our own good. Worse, with the growing popularity has come a crackdown.

Some areas are letting a little sense into their laws, but it’s too slow and for dubious reasons. Consider:

New York state Sen. John Sabini is pushing to allow bars or restaurants to host poker tournaments offering prizes such as Yankees tickets or a trip to Las Vegas.

Because players spend money on food and drinks, businesses would earn more, and “that would trickle down to the state,” Sabini says.

Sen. Sabini could, of course, focus on the concept that poker houses or casinos could generate profits themselves, which would then be taxable, rather than waiting for it to result in greater beer sales. The taxability should be an outcome and not the reason for decriminalization, but some victories aren’t quite so complete.

Alas, with the rise in nanny laws protecting people from themselves, the victory may also by Pyrrhic:

If gambling laws are relaxed, society should help those whose playing gets out of control, says Keith Whyte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Problem Gambling.

It’s not society’s responsibility to help. Private members of society are free to help all they want, but government society as I think is implied here should not. I shouldn’t be compelled to use my money and/or time, whether through new gambling taxes or personal ID checks, to prevent someone from being stupid. I know how to control my gambling. Don’t punish me because someone else can’t do the same.

Where the hell is the damn dam tour?

I’m back from Vegas, exhausted and poor, but happy. The weekend held so many experiences that it’d take hours to write each one in sufficient depth. Besides being too exhausted to commit that much energy, I have no doubt that most of it would only be exciting to me. Vegas stories fall into the classic “you had to be there” category because, at its core, every Vegas trip is really just an exaggerated road trip. I’m going to laugh hysterically at the memory of these stories for years, but I understand that because you weren’t there, I’ll laugh harder at them than you. So I’ll sell the punch line early for each vignette. Once sold, I’ll stop.

Here goes…


I know budget airlines are all the rage, but please, if an airline wants to try the budget route, they must have a think on it first. To get to Vegas, I flew a combination of United and Ted. I haven’t flown United in years because Southwest is usually the cheapest alternative to everywhere I travel, but United had the best combination of price and schedule. Every trip flight this weekend revealed that United changed since my last experience. I don’t remember them ever trying to be a budget airline/Southwest, so their new endeavor surprised me. I did give it chance, but I hate it.

United/Ted somehow believes that I want to be treated like a cow in a herd. I don’t. When I board the plane, I want logic and convenience. Airlines such as United used to offer that, but it’s gone. The boarding process felt like Southwest without any thought process. Southwest’s boarding process is tedious, but somehow it almost always works. No matter when I board the plane, there is always a seat in the front, middle, and back of the plane on the aisle. Wherever I feel like sitting for the flight, I have the choice. I’m sure there’s a theory for why it works, but I don’t know it. It’s probably the same personal motivation people have for sitting in the same seat in a classroom or meeting. Seat assignments aren’t necessary, as anyone who’s taken a class in college knows. The seating just works itself out. It’s the “private market” at its finest. Until United/Ted implemented it.

When the easy check-in machine printed my boarding pass, I read my seat number printed on the ticket, along with my Seating Group. It should’ve been simple. Instead I learned the torture of the Seating Group. Rather than group seating by row number, United/Ted uses some bizarre combination of check-in time, seat price, frequent flyer status, and astrological sign. There is no logical purpose to this beyond a cheap, stupid imitation of Southwest.

My journey’s most glaring proof of this idiocy occurred Sunday night as I caught the red-eye from LAX back to D.C. At 11:30 pm, I don’t want to stand around until it’s necessary for me to board. I want to sit in the terminal, not scrunched up with people. I don’t like people that much, so the normal procedure is good. But my seat was in the next-to-last row, which meant I needed to board first. Except United/Ted disagreed. I was in the next to last group to board, even though I’d checked in five hours earlier in Vegas. That meant that everyone in the front and middle of the plane boarded first, standing in the aisle, blocking the line on the walkway back to the terminal for those of us in the back. Brilliant strategy.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be witty and hip, like Southwest, the flight attendants also tell jokes. Upon landing in Vegas, the stewardess commented about the casinos on the right side of the plane as we taxied to our gate. She opined this:

If you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the casinos where you lost your money the last time you were here. (pause) Now, if you look out the windows on the right, you’ll see the 3 or 4 casinos being built with the money you’re going to lose here this weekend.

That’s not funny. She thought she was being amusing, but all she did was wave her little have-shitty-luck fairy dust over everyone. I’m superstitious with a healthy bit of intellectual skepticism, but I attribute every bad beat of the weekend to her. I even questioned my decision to wear my 2005 Phillies spring training t-shirt on Saturday because the Phightin’s had lost every time I’ve worn it. I gambled on the Phillies Saturday, so I wanted to eliminate every disadvantage I could. I wore the t-shirt, which is where the skepticism came in, but the game was much tighter at the end than it should’ve been, which is where the losing ways of the t-shirt still lingered. I credit the gambling with breaking the curse of the t-shirt, but it took my effort and thought. There was no way to counter that stewardess’ waitress’ comment, though. My last 24 hours in Vegas proved that her torpedo hit its mark. After her comment, the only bet I’d win is the one that says my dollars will fly elsewhere in the future.


Cousin Eddie: I haven’t seen a beatin’ like that since somebody stuck a banana in my pants and turned a monkey loose.

During my first 24 hours in Vegas, I crushed the Blackjack tables. I lost my small bets and won my big bets. If I wagered $50 on the hand, the dealer would hit me a seven after dealing me a fourteen facing a face card. My streak was sick. I couldn’t lose. Every time I sat at a table, I doubled my initial stake within twenty minutes. It didn’t matter who sat at the table or how many people. I rocked. And then…

Clark Griswold: Twenty.
Marty: Twenty. It’s a push!
Clark Griswold: Hey, its a tie! I didn’t lose!
Marty: That’s it, Griswold! Now you’re freakin’ dead!

I played the $5 single-deck table, doubling my bet with every hand and returning to the minimum with every minimum. There’s nothing illegal about the strategy, and it won’t make anyone rich, but it’s a perfect strategy with a good bankroll to sustain it. Vegas casinos know this, so they set the table maximums at a sufficient level low enough to bust almost everyone on a bad streak. I hit that bad streak. I lost (a loss or a push) nine consecutive hands before busting my stake for the round. My actual loss wasn’t huge, but I’d built a 125% return on my stake before the streak hit. I could’ve left the table before the streak, but it came so suddenly that I missed the signs. When the sign hit, I tilted mentally. It’s a lesson I mastered the rest of the weekend, but I tilted at the sign.

What was the sign? I put my original table stake on a hand after a string of losses. The dealer flipped the cards around the table. (Casinos deal single-deck Blackjack face down to limit card counting.) I pulled Blackjack, with a payout of 6-to-5. Except the dealer pulled Blackjack, as well. With her Ten face up and her Ace face down, I couldn’t purchase insurance, which I would have done if the Ace came out as the up card. Instead of doubling my money, I pushed. When that happens, get. up. immediately. I didn’t and I lost the rest of the weekend.

I turned my luck into small gains with diligence, but then my own version of Vegas Vacation’s Marty showed up at the table to take it away. She pummelled me so badly that I sat down, ordered a bottle of water, and busted out before my water arrived. Tipping the waitress with the last dollar chip is not funny, not funny, not funny. Every gambler should learn that when his “Marty” shows up, he must leave the table. It’s not hard. Just stand up, push the chair back, and walk away. I wish I’d made the connection before; it would’ve saved
me from paying so much for a tiny bottle of water.


Craps Experiment 2005 was a bust. Unlike Mr. Papagiorgio, I threw three 7s on my first roll after the come out roll. After, not on, which means I lost. And lost. And lost. I’m convinced they made me play with loaded dice. I’ll play again, but sheesh, at least buy me dinner first.


I saw this Blackjack scenario, not once, not twice, but three times this weekend. I swear I wish I was making this up. That’s a lie, actually, because it was so awesome that I took actual glee in the bizarre reality of it. Consider:

Lois: I’m upset because you never listen to me. This is Atlantic City all over again.
[Lois and Peter at Blackjack table]
Dealer: You’ve got 20!
Peter: Hit me.
Lois: Peter, don’t.
Peter: Hit me.
Dealer: 21!
Peter: Hit me.
Lois: Peter.
Peter: Hit me.
Dealer: That’s 30.
Peter: Hit me.

I love quoting movies and TV shows during life’s random correlations, so I quoted that the rest of the weekend after the first time it happened. That I got to use it two more times made my head hurt in the same way it would if I’d finished a slushee in 30 seconds. Wow. Just wow. Vegas really is the land of dreams.

(For the record, the dealer didn’t give the next card once the players hit 21, but still… have you ever seen someone try to hit on 21? I didn’t think so.)


That was the weekend. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t afford to go back, but I still can’t wait.