July 13, 2006
The Poster Child for Outlawing Internet Gambling
Posted by Christine Hurt

In preparing for my stint this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio, I read through the debates held on H.R. 4411, a bill passed this week by the House of Representatives that prohibits the use of credit cards and other payment systems by online gambling establishments, with the exception of U.S. horseracing establishments and state lotteries.  The money quote (from Rep. Osborne):  "There is nothing that we can do right now at this particular time that I think is more germane to the welfare of families and people in the United States than this legislation."  Rep. Osborne suffers from a lack of imagination if he thinks that the American people will benefit from no other conceivable piece of legislation more than an ineffective prohibition against internet gambling.

However, proponents of the bill had a powerful weapon in their arsenal:  Greg Hogan.  Mr. Hogan, the son of a Baptist preacher (always mentioned) and president of his class at Lehigh University robbed a Wachovia bank last year by saying he had a gun.  Although the action only netted him about $2,800, his stated reason for robbing the bank was that he had an online poker habit that cost him $7,500.  Predictably, supporters of H.R. 4411 have adopted Mr. Hogan as their poster boy for outlawing (financial services that provide infrastructure for the financing of) internet gambling.  See how internet gambling can take our good boys and make them bank robbers? 

I have many thoughts on the use of this anecdote:

1.  Let's prohibit anything that might cause an otherwise good person to steal.  Debts are odious.  Let's prohibit lending.  Acohol.  Drugs (did that).  Poverty.  The average college student carries a credit card debt of $2,748 according to a 2000 Sallie Mae study.  If anything is adding to the financial woes of college students, it's credit card debt, yet colleges hand out applications all over campus.  If Mr. Hogan had run up a $7,500 credit card bill at Abercrombie and robbed a bank, whose fault would that be?  Abercrombie's?

2.  Perhaps we have a parenting crisis.  If it weren't for MySpace, then my 14 year-old girl would be playing with her American Girl doll and not meeting up with 19 year-old men who pose for 18 year-old boys.  This is MySpace's fault.  According to information included in the Congressional Record, Mr. Hogan's parents knew all about his gambling problems because they read his bank statements.  Mr. Hogan always promised to stop, even though he played 10 hours a day in his parents' basement over Thanksgiving.  What did they think he was doing?  The senior Mr. Hogan even drove to his son's college to install anti-gambling software on his son's laptop.  Unfortunately, there are other computers on a college campus. 

3.  This bill would not have stopped Greg Hogan.  Mr. Hogan's father was quoted as saying that this bill would have helped his son.  How?  Mr. Hogan built a bank account with his debit card and loans from friends.  Surely if he can circumvent his father's software program he can figure out how to use an offshore e-commerce payment system.

4.  Ironically, the son of a family friend did the same thing -- in 1986.  While in college on a basketball scholarship, our friend ran up sports gambling debts.  He decided to rob a bank in our hometown over the holiday break.  Unfortunately, he walked there from his house in the snow.  He robbed the bank in a ski mask and then walked back to his house in the snow.  Looking for a suspect who was 6'4" and who made size 13 footprints and who lived in our neighborhood was not as difficult as he might have thought.  Amazingly, this good son was turned into a bank robber without the Internet. 

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