November 16, 2005
If It's Profitable, It Can't Be Illegal -- Internet Gambling (Again)
Posted by Christine Hurt

Today's NYT once again asks the question whether the DOJ actually thinks that Internet gambling is illegal.  Several U.S. celebrities like Jesse Ventura, Tom Arnold and Jim Kelly have signed lucrative contracts to endorse different offshore gaming sites.  In researching the story, the NYT asked at least two different USAAs whether this type of "aiding and abetting" would violate federal law, as the DOJ has stated that other actions of advertisers, media companies, online payment providers and credit card companies does.  No comment.  Doesn't the federal government have some obligation to articulate what actions it believes violates law?

These celebrities do not some legal advice.  I'm not sure who is more naive here, the celebrities or the "legal experts" cited in the NYT article.  Jim Kelly, for instance, assures us that "when he signed the contract he was told he would be held harmless for any legal problems."  In U.S. v. Cohen, Mr. Cohen received jail time.  Is going to be able to do Mr. Kelly's jail time?  The article also states:

Legal experts said celebrities pursued by prosecutors could defend themselves by arguing that they were not aware that the enterprise they were promoting was illegal.

Is that really a defense now? I, for instance, can never go to jail for antitrust violations because I know almost nothing about criminal antitrust law. Good to know.  Moreover, this statement cannot even be made with respect to sports gambling on the Internet because several people have been sent to jail for this unknown crime.

The most interesting part of the article is the sentiment that a $12 billion industry can't be wrong.  Although this may shock our readers, I'm not particularly interested in the de-criminalization of Internet gambling, but I am generally interested in why some actions that seem to involve morality are legal, illegal, in-between, or of a changed status.  What makes the change happen?  Why does the de-criminalization of some acts (sodomy) take a long time or (prostitution) forever, but others happen quickly.  I would be cynical and say money, but what about drugs?  There has to be more than $12 billion involved in the illegal drug industry.

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