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The Issue That Destroyed the GOP: Online Gaming & Poker

By May 7, 2009No Comments
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Why They Still Haven’t Learned Their Lesson.

Why I Finally Agree on Something with Barney Frank.

By Wayne Allyn Root, 2008 Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee

I am asked constantly by talk show hosts across the USA why I left the GOP and became the leader of a national Libertarian movement for smaller government and economic and personal freedom. Nothing could symbolize my bold decision more than the issue of online poker and gaming. It was only 5 years ago that Republicans controlled every level of government from Congress, to the U.S. Senate, to the Presidency, to a majority of Governorships, and even a majority of state legislatures. Now they control NOTHING. Now Democrats control every one of those same levels of government. The Republican brand went from wildly popular to poison. Amazingly, Republicans haven't a clue how it happened. Worse, they're digging the hole deeper. I believe the meltdown of the GOP all started and crystallized with the Republican-led ban on online poker and gaming. Once again, this issue is roaring back to life to haunt the GOP. It may be the final death-blow.

Congressman Barney Frank, a politician that I have attacked with gusto on numerous occasions for his ultra-liberal fiscal views, unveiled a plan on Wednesday to legalize online gaming. For once, I find myself on the same side as Barney Frank and actually cheering his words. I never thought the day would come where I uttered these 7 words- “I love what Barney Frank just said.” I am a Barry Goldwater/Ronald Reagan disciple who believes the GOP has abandoned its fiscal conservative roots- and therefore abandoned me. When Congressman Barney Frank and I agree on something, you know that either hell has frozen over, or the GOP is in big trouble.

Plain and simple, gambling is an issue of FREEDOM and personal responsibility. What I do in my bedroom, on my computer, with my money is none of government's business. In any free society, I have a right to enjoy gambling as my choice of either entertainment, or investment, without government getting involved. It's that simple.

Gambling in my opinion is as American as apple pie. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both enjoyed gambling. The original colonies successfully raised money with lotteries. Virtually any business decision involves financial risk. That is why the biggest winners on Wall Street are virtually all world-class gamblers with nerves of steel. That is why our wealthiest citizens are often business owners- what could be a bigger risk (or produce a bigger reward) than betting millions on a start-up? Entrepreneurship (risk-taking) is at the very heart of capitalism. Billions are risked every day on Wall Street. Billions are risked every day on the commodities market. Billions are risked on Main Street by small business owners. Without risk, there is no reward. Without risk-takers (capitalist gamblers), America could not be the world's greatest economic power. Those who attack and denigrate gambling, have no understanding of the very roots of capitalism.

Gambling has been in our blood and DNA from the first days of America. The world's biggest gamblers left their homelands, leaving behind their safe lives, to travel on dangerous boats, filled with disease, to a New World called America- often with no money, and no friends or relatives waiting on the other side. Later the pioneers risked their lives to travel thousands of miles in covered wagons, facing starvation, Indian attacks and disease to tame the Wild West. What would you call that? Playing it safe? The very idea of America is symbolized by gambling, throwing caution to the wind, betting your life on a new start in a new land.

The Republican-led ban of online gaming badly damaged the Republican brand. It was all downhill from there. I believe this issue killed the GOP message of smaller, more limited government. Republicans may believe in just a little bit more economic freedom than President Obama and his socialist tax and spend crowd, but when it comes to personal freedom, Republicans want bigger government in your bedroom; on your computer; interfering in your personal decisions; limiting your freedoms; violating your civil rights; deciding what behavior is acceptable and “moral.” The ban of online gaming and poker morphed the GOP into Big Brother. Worse, it exposed Republicans as hypocrites and uptight prudes looking to take away our personal freedoms and limit the choices of consenting adults.

The smokescreen used to defend this ban was “morality.” But morality based on whose standards? Here's the great thing about freedom. I like to gamble. You don't. Great. So don't gamble. No one is forcing you. Feel free to teach your children not to gamble. But why would you ever want to stop me from enjoying what I want to do? What right have you got to limit my choice of entertainment? Are you upset that I'm having a good time and you're not? Are you upset that I can enjoy gambling without becoming addicted or ruining my life, while you can't? You know what they call groups that police morality and ban choices of personal freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan? The Taliban.

Whether I choose gambling as my form of entertainment, or investment…either way, it doesn't effect you and it's NONE OF YOUR DARN BUSINESS. Any political party that disagrees with that simple philosophy deserves to lose power at all levels of office, destroy their popularity, and tarnish their brand forever. Sound familiar?

What's the GOP's new slogan? “We are the Nanny State. We're going to save you- whether you like it or not.” If that's your political slogan, good luck. You aren't the party of smaller government. You are the party of bigger government. You are the very symbol of political hypocrisy (and stupidity). I wish you a wonderful future in the world's smallest and most uptight political minority.

The truth is that the ban of online poker and gaming is not an insignificant issue. It is a huge issue. If our government thinks it has a right to tell citizens what games they can play on their own computer, then there is no limit to what control they want to hold over our lives. The ban of online gaming cost the GOP the support of many Libertarian-leaning voters. It cost them the support of many fiscally conservative, socially tolerant small business owners (whose contributions fuel the GOP). Most importantly, it cost them the support of millions of men who love to play poker and gamble on sports.

How popular is sports gambling? It has made the Super Bowl and March Madness two of the most popular television events in the country and for all intents and purposes, national holidays. How popular is poker? Just one organization, The PPA (Poker Players Alliance) has over one million members. Experts estimate that 10 million to 12 million American citizens play online poker. Over 50 million Americans play poker as a recreational sport. The World Series of Poker held in Las Vegas each summer has become the world's richest sporting event (with over $100,000,000 in prizes). Poker TV shows dominate the television screen.

What are the demographics of these online gamblers? For the most part, they tend to be males- macho, fiscally conservative, free spirited, entrepreneurial, small business owners, stock investors, self-employed. Like me, they are passionate capitalists that believe in limited government, low taxes and free markets. They distrust and dislike government. They certainly do not trust or support Barack Obama or his plans to redistribute the wealth. Do you get the idea who we're describing? Republicans! The brilliant GOP, with this ignorant ban on online gambling, has screwed over the worst possible group of voters- their own constituents.

Instead of learning from this fiasco, it appears the tone-deaf GOP is a glutton for punishment. They appear to be gearing up to fight Congressman Barney Frank in order to uphold this ban on the freedom of their own supporters. And you wonder why millions of former lifelong, loyal Republicans just like me have changed sides? We're never going to fall into the arms of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, with their socialist tax and spend ideas that limit our economic freedom, denigrate capitalism and greatly increase the size, scope and power of government. But we're done with the GOP. We've found a home in the only political party that supports both economic and personal freedom: the Libertarian Party.

Libertarians understand- unlike the GOP- that asking government to play Nanny; to take control over your personal behavior; to play Big Brother in your bedroom or on your computer; to limit your personal freedom; is no better than Democrats forcing big government into your personal financial decisions or trying to steal (they call it “redistribute”) your hard-earned money. It’s all about the same issue- freedom. It’s the reason our ancestors came to America (or died trying). It’s the reason we fought the American Revolution. Freedom is at the root (excuse the pun) of what America is all about.

Gambling is about freedom. Whether you like it or not, approve of it or not, that personal choice is none of government's darn business. More importantly, what difference is there between making a $100 online bet on a hand of poker; a $1000 online bet on the Dallas Cowboys or Los Angeles Lakers; or a $100,000 wager on Microsoft or ExxonMobil with your Charles Schwab or E*Trade online account? There is no difference- except that the last few years have proven Wall Street is far more dangerous and costly. Should we ban stock investing? Should we ban online stock accounts at Charles Schwab, E*Trade or TD Ameritrade? Well we shouldn’t ban online poker either.

A far bigger problem in America today is obesity. Only 6% (at most) of Americans have a gambling addiction. But as much as 60% of the U.S. population has an obesity problem. Should we ban delis? Should we ban McDonalds? Should we ban Krispy Kremes?

Alcohol kills more Americans than any other addiction. Yet we allow bars, restaurants and clubs to sell alcohol, don't we? We tried Prohibition in the 1920's- it was the greatest political failure ever. Our citizens kept drinking; lost respect for the law; millions of dollars of tax revenue was lost; and organized crime was born to fill the void. Nothing about online gambling is any different. Banning it will solve nothing; the people who enjoy it as entertainment will keep doing it; they will lose respect for the law; billions in tax revenues will be lost; problem gamblers will move underground; and organized crime will rake in the profits. Perhaps we should call this ban “The Gambino Family Support Bill.” Afterall, the mafia is the greatest beneficiary of this ban. It is estimated that Americans have gambled over $100 Billion per year online since the ban on online gambling. Pretty effective, huh? Once again, more proof of the utter futility and stupidity of trying to limit freedom under the guise of morality. They should just rename the morality police, “the Keystone Cops.”

This ban has nothing to do with morality. If it did, the same politicians who railed against online gaming would not have carved out exemptions for online lotteries, online horseracing, tribal casinos, or fantasy football. The next time you hear a politician say he or she supports a ban on online gaming or poker, you should ask them which organized crime family is bribing them with campaign contributions.

PriceWaterhouseCooper recently studied the issue of online gaming and concluded that legalization will produce over $50 Billion in tax revenues for the federal government. That's $50 Billion (with a “B”) at a time when our budget deficits and national debt grows by the trillions. Why would we throw away $50 Billion in revenues just waiting to be collected, at the same time we limit the freedoms of millions of Americans? Seems like a no-brainer to me. But then I also understand why the GOP brand has been ruined, leaving the party in shambles. The answer is clear: this tone-deaf obsession with limiting the personal freedom of consenting adults. It's funny how a little issue of taking away people's freedom can destroy a political party. Or even more remarkably, drive a free-market, limited-government Libertarian into the arms of…Barney Frank.

Wayne Allyn Root was the 2008 Libertarian Vice Presidential candidate. His new book will be released by John Wiley & Sons this July entitled, “The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gambling & Tax Cuts.” The book is available for pre-sale at For more of Wayne's views, commentaries, or to watch his many media interviews, please visit his