Five years after Congress outlawed gambling on the Internet, the Justice Department has finally scored its first conviction under the law.
And just in time.
Powerful and wealthy political forces are pushing Congress to repeal the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. They even hope to slip a repeal measure quietly into a bill as Congress rushes to pass legislation this month.
In addition, a few cash-strapped states are moving toward legalizing this highly addictive type of gambling within their borders.
The conviction under that act came Monday as a federal jury in Boston found Todd Lyons guilty of violating the federal ban on using US banks to pay Internet gambling debts incurred by American citizens. He and codefendant Daniel Eremian were also convicted on related charges. The two of them, along with two other men who remain fugitives, ran a large gambling ring based out of the Caribbean island of Antigua that catered to gamblers along the East Coast.
This successful endorsement of the act by a court will come in handy as more prosecutions are sought. Next March, a trial begins against top executives of PokerStars and Full Tilt, two major offshore gambling businesses shut down by the Justice Department last April. (Full Tilt was charged with operating “a Ponzi scheme” that bilked bettors.)
The prosecution has already had preliminary skirmishes in court over the issue of whether poker is really a game of skill. Fortunately, the Justice Department has come down on the side of those who say it is a game of chance – despite some recent waffling on that point by Attorney General Eric Holder.
Congress was clear on the act dealing with games of chance. And after all, remember the Kenny Rogers country song about knowing “when to fold ’em” in a poker game. The song title is “The Gambler.”
Justice officials have also helped the antilegalization cause by suggesting that La Cosa Nostra has infiltrated the shadowy world of online poker. If organized crime is eyeing this potential industry, all the more reason to ban it.
Momentum to overturn the act picked up steam last year when major casinos, which once feared any competition from the Internet, jumped on board. Sen. Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and Senate majority leader also flip-flopped. Since then, a powerful lobby for legalization has grown larger, even hiring a former FBI director and a former Homeland Security chief.
The monied interests behind legalization know that Internet gambling would come with many social problems – especially among teens, who could not easily be deterred from using such websites. Hearings in the House this fall revealed the extent of the potential problem and how Internet gambling would require extensive regulation.
Simply stopping Internet gambling is the best course. And now the Justice Department is fully on board.