Today, state officials from the Department of Public Safety have aimed their sights on an area which they believe threatens the safety of their citizens. Child porn, drug dealers, gangs? Nope something even more insidious -- Internet gambling. Yep, the full force and power of the state government of Minnesota is rallying to protect us all from the scourge that is online gambling.
According to a news report in the Star-Tribune, the Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division has instructed 11 national and regional telephone and Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access by all Minnesota-based computers to nearly 200 online gambling websites.
The article quotes John Willems, the director of the agency instituting the crackdown, as saying, "We are putting site operators and Minnesota online gamblers on notice and in advance. State residents with online escrow accounts should be aware that access to their accounts may be jeopardized and their funds in peril."
According to the article, Willems does not know how much Internet wagering is going on in Minnesota either in the amount of dollars or the number of players, but believes that the amount of gambling going on in his state over the Internet “is fairly large.”
What has motivated this decision? That can be deduced fairly easily as Willems notes that the Canterbury Park in Shakopee has said that its casino-style games have been hurt. Once again, protection of the local state gambling operation, and not any issue of law or morality, carries the day. This is a near replay of the efforts in Kentucky to protect their online gambling site, TwinSpires.com, by attempting to seize the domain names of gambling sites used by residents of that state.
Here, the state of Minnesota is not trying to seize the websites – a wise move as the Kentucky appellate court halted the seizures there ruling that the state misapplied its seizure laws. Instead, the state agency sent notices to ISPs ordering them to block their sites to Minnesota residents. But the move would have the same effect -- probibiting what is otherwise legal conduct.
The state is apparently relying on a 1961 federal law that gives states the authority to control illegal gambling, yet how that gives them the right to interfere with free speech and violate interstate commerce is another question. One I hope will be answered in favor of online gambling.
To me, it's a basic Republican position to want as little governmental intervention in our lives as possible. I should be free to decide how I want to spend my free time and my money, without unnecessary governmental interference. Poker is not a crime and should not be treated like one. The citizens of Minnesota, like those of Kentucky, do not need their government to act as their babysitter. And they certainly don't need their states interfering with their free speech rights for the sole purpose of protectionism. This is just censorship, plain and simple, and as a Republican I don't need the government stepping in to stop every form of communication they don't agree with. While I'm not often on the side of the ACLU, I'm looking forward to their weighing in on this issue.
In the meantime, the Poker Players Alliance has already issued a statement objecting to the Minnesota’s anti-online gambling efforts, writing:
Matt Werden, the Minnesota state director of the Poker Players Alliance, the leading poker grassroots advocacy group with more than one million members nationwide, and more than 21,000 in Minnesota, today issued the following statement following the press announcement by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that they are attempting to block citizens from accessing any commercial gambling sites, including online poker sites.
This isn't simply a heavy-handed tactic by the government; this is a clear misrepresentation of federal law, as well as Minnesota law, used in an unprecedented way to try and censor the Internet. I don't know what U.S. Code they're reading, but it is not illegal to play this great American pastime online, and we're calling their bluff.
The fact is, online poker is not illegal, it's not criminal, and it cannot be forcibly blocked by a state authority looking to score some political points. What are they going to do when this fails, ban poker books and burn our players at the stake?
We see headlines like this coming from communist China but never expect that it could happen here in Minnesota. The good news is groups like the Poker Players Alliance are here to protect the rights of poker players and set the record straight when government reaches too far. But this is more than just protecting poker – this is about keeping the internet free of censorship and ensuring that law abiding citizens can enjoy a game of Texas Hold 'Em in the comfort of their own home, whether it's online or with a group of friends.
The PPA will take any action necessary to make sure our members and the general public are aware of these oppressive and illegal actions, and to make sure the game of poker – in all its forms – is protected in the state of Minnesota."