In 2006, when Americans heard that U.S. ports were being sold to a Dubai-based company, politicians and the media started a frenzy. Despite the fact that 75% of containers entering the United States pass through port terminals operated by foreigners, this was different. At the time, the U.S. government perceived that anti-Muslim sentiments were too strong to allow “them” to own major U.S. ports. In response, the federal government passed the Safe Port Act, which strengthened protection of ports. However, the Safe Port Act also included a provision known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which prevented America’s financial institutions from conducting business with online gambling sites. The UIGEA had an instant impact on online gambling and on publicly held online gambling companies. These online companies were forced to drop their U.S. players. Enrollment in the biggest online poker event of the year fell from 8,773 players before the UIGEA to 6,358 after its passage.

The outlook for online gamblers has improved in recent months. Congress has sought to remove the restrictions on online poker. However, the impetus behind several of these proposals is to generate tax dollars by regulating online poker and not necessarily to give Americans the freedom to gamble online.

Online poker sites have moved away from advertising their “.com” sites, instead opting to advertise “.net” versions of their sites that look identical, but don’t allow actual money wagers. Though the “.net” sites are mere portals to funnel gamblers to their “.com” sites, the Department of Justice seems placated.

Agreeing with Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), I argue that the UIGEA is unconstitutional and should be repealed. It is a violation of substantive due process when adults in a free society are prohibited from contracting to spend their money as they choose in the privacy of their homes. The morality of the legislative purposes behind the Safe Port Act and the UIGEA are questionable. By passing the Safe Port Act and the UIGEA, Congress seemed to say that gambling is immoral but racism is not.

-Seth Erickson

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