Does Bobby Jindal know how the Internet works?

Louisiana Gov. Governor Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican convention in Grand Island, Neb., Saturday, July 14, 2012, with Chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party Mark Fahleson, right. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Louisiana Gov. Governor Bobby Jindal addresses the Nebraska Republican convention in 2012. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal recently offered some puzzling comments about Internet gambling.

A recent study entitled ‘U.S. Internet Gambling in Focus’ named Louisiana as one of 10 states seriously considering online gambling legalization in 2014. The report obviously didn’t sit well with Jindal, however, who subsequently took the opportunity to reiterate his campaign promise to put a halt to any proposals by state legislators to expand gambling in Louisiana.

The Pelican State won $202.2 million from casino gamblers in December, 2013, but the introduction of regulated online gambling is seen as a step too far by the Republican governor, who then likened internet gaming executives to Soprano’s gangster Christopher Moltisanti, who killed screenwriter J.T. Dolan after involving him in a dangerous game he couldn’t afford to play.

“Those who want to bring casinos into America’s living rooms say ‘trust us, it’s safe for kids,’ and that the ‘technology can thwart criminals and money launderers. I don’t trust them, and neither should the people of Louisiana,” explained Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Let’s count the errors, here. First, the Soprano’s weekly poker game that ensnared J.T. Dolan was an in-person game. It was not conducted on the Internet.

Second, it was an illegal game. The online poker companies want their games to be recognized and regulated. The Soprano family did not.

Third, because it was an in-person game, the Soprano crime family was able to extend Dolan a line of credit beyond his means. They knew where to find him and could extract the money from him in other ways — or just beat him or kill him. With online poker, you can only wager as much money as you deposit into your account. Sure, you could go into debt with credit cards, or fritter away your kids’ college fund. You can do that at casinos, too. Or binge shopping on eBay. But you wouldn’t be indebted to the online poker companies, and they wouldn’t be able to send goons to extract what you owe them. You’d be in debt to the credit card companies. Or you’d need to answer to your family. Of course, Jindal knows this. But simply comparing debt racked up to online poker to debt racked up at a bricks-and-mortar casino, or to other ways of spending money online, wouldn’t give him the opportunity to compare online poker to the mafia.

Fourth, because online poker is illegal in the United States (for the most part), American players who still want to play utilize sites that are based overseas and thus outside the reach of U.S. authorities. U.S.-based players who are victims of fraud or theft have no recourse. If online poker were legal in the United States, nearly all players would chose to patronize sites that make themselves subject to U.S. law. That way if something went wrong with their money, they’d have options. Keeping the game illegal only facilitates fraud, theft and money laundering.

Fifth, online poker is already legal in most of the rest of the western world. These companies are already regulated by other governments in developed countries. Some are publicly traded. Comparing them to Christopher Moltisanti is just bald deception.

I once had a similarly puzzling exchange with Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus. This is an issue that Republicans can’t quite square with the party’s alleged principles of limited government. So they just rely on deceit. When the party pushed the online gambling ban several years ago, they laughably tried to pass off the ban as a way to clean up Congress after the Jack Abramoff scandal. But Abramoff wanted a ban on online gambling. He wanted carve-out exceptions for two of his clients, the Indian casinos and state lotteries. The Republicans ended up passing exactly that.

So why is the party so adamant about this? Part of it I suspect is little more than moral opposition to gambling. But for Jindal, there may be something else going on.

Ironically, since taking office six years ago the Louisiana governor hadn’t focused much on internet gambling until the Gambling Compliance report was released, coupled with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson’s recent high-profile anti-internet gambling ad campaign. Jindal has subsequently attacked the US DoJ’s 2011 reinterpretation of the 1961 Wire Act as a huge mistake and has vowed to prevent regulated online poker and casino games finding a toehold in Louisiana.

I’m not sure I’d have gone with ironically there. A better choice would be predictably. Adelson, the bricks-and-mortar casino magnate, has recruited a number of former politicians in his push against legalized Internet gambling. He also rather famously spent millions of dollars on the GOP primary campaign of Newt Gingrich. Jindal is widely regarded as a GOP presidential hopeful in 2016. And, wouldn’t you know it, Jindal has been consulting with Adelson about financial support for his political ambitions since shortly after the 2012 election ended.

Since the GOP-led Congress passed the Internet gambling bill in 2006, federal officials have been seeking out and arresting the executives of Internet gaming companies (as well as the payment services that did business with them), even when those officials are citizens of countries where Internet gambling is perfectly legal and the companies they run are incorporated in places where it is also legal. The federal government has also had to make concessions to settle trade disputes over its insistence on barring Americans from consensually wagering money online. We’re basically asserting our will and enforcing our way of doing things on weaker countries all over the globe. In the process, we’re propping up the market for black market gambling. Tony Soprano would be proud.

 

CORRECTION:  I made a mistake, here. It wasn’t Jindal who made the Sopranos reference, but Dan Katz, who writes for Poker News Daily. This is the passage in question:

According to Jindal, online gaming executives are like The Sopranos’ Christopher Moltisanti leading J.T. Dolan into a game he can’t afford, one which will surely turn his life to ruins; they are just preying on American citizens.

I was sent Katz’s article, along with a similar article from OnlinePoker.net, which also mistook Katz’s article to attribute the Sopranos reference to Jindal.

In any case, Jindal did not make a Sopranos reference, although he did accuse online gambling sites of preying on the vulnerable, laundering money, and other criminal conduct. I guess the lesson here is that should learn more about how the Internet works—that as it travels from source to source, information can easily be distorted, misattributed, and then republished as fact.

My apologies for the error.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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