WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) ethics entity and other gambling foes are speaking out against legislation to legalize online poker that is a threat to gain U.S. Senate passage before the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and conservative Sen. Jon Kyl, R.-Ariz., have drafted a bill that reportedly would legalize Internet gambling on poker. They have yet to introduce the proposal, but opponents are concerned Reid may attach it to must-pass legislation that would receive a vote before the “lame-duck” session closes.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) “steadfastly opposes your efforts,” the entity’s president, Richard Land, told Kyl in a Dec. 5 letter.
“We cannot support any effort that grants government sanction to any form of gambling,” Land said. “Your bill not only does that but also creates a regulatory mechanism that is certain to be used to introduce other forms of Internet gambling in the future.
“No amount of regulation or taxation could make such legalization a winning proposition for America,” Land wrote Kyl.
The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) also has expressed its opposition to the Reid-Kyl proposal.
“Pastors regularly see the destructive impact of gambling on families and children,” NAE President Leith Anderson said in a Dec. 11 statement. “Those problems will increase if gambling moves from buildings to home computers.”
The online poker bill would weaken a 2006 federal law designed to bar most Internet gambling, Land told Kyl. That measure, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, requires financial institutions to block credit card and other payments to online wagering businesses, which primarily are located overseas. Gambling foes, with the agreement of the U.S. Justice Department at the time, argued a 1961 law that prohibited wagering over telephone wires also barred Internet wagering.
Proponents of online gambling gained impetus for their efforts when a late 2011 opinion by the Justice Department contended the 2006 law applies only to sports betting. Georgia and Illinois are now selling lottery draw tickets on the Internet, and other state legislatures are considering bills to legalize online gambling, The Wall Street Journal reported Dec. 5.
Kyl, who supported the 2006 law, believes the new legislation will help limit the spread of gambling, according to The Journal.
Foes of his bill disagree.
“This is being disguised as a protective bill, if you will, that would limit gambling, but in fact … this is just a precursor bill” to opening the Internet to casino gambling a few years from now, said Chad Hills, Focus on the Family’s gambling analyst, in a Dec. 11 online interview.
The proposal would aid Reid’s home state, Nevada, its opponents contend. The directors of state lotteries are even working to defeat the legislation. Only Nevada is set up to license Internet poker operators, a state lottery defender told the Las Vega Review-Journal. The state directors also argue federal legislation is unneeded, since their lotteries are able to regulate Internet gambling.
Kyl and fellow Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada say they have enough GOP support in the Senate to approve the bill, the Review-Journal reported Dec. 11.
If the bill passes the Senate, it still would face a challenge in the House of Representatives. Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas, has introduced a bill to legalize online gambling. Land wrote him in October to ask him to withdraw support for his proposal.
Stop Predatory Gambling (SPG), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that combats government partnerships with gambling, said legalizing online gambling would result in Facebook “casinos” that “would have a devastating impact on America’s children under 18 and deeply worsen the nation’s epidemic of gambling addiction.”
The organization said America’s children are a major target for casino operators seeking the legalization of online gambling. Facebook sees gambling as a significant strategy for the development of new revenue streams, said SPG, citing a July report in the Daily Mail. More than 20 million children under 18, including 7.5 million under 13, use Facebook regularly, according to Consumer Reports, SPG said.
“Legalizing Facebook casinos represents the biggest expansion of casino gambling in history, opening a Las Vegas casino in every home, office, dorm room and smart phone in America, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” according to SPG.
Land told Kyl in his letter, “We know all too well the destructive power of online gambling. It is ruinous not only to those who engage in the practice but also to their families and society as a whole. With its addictive lure, Internet gambling often leads to broken marriages, child neglect, and depleted finances, among other devastating consequences.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)