Too many saviors, not enough causes

Jan 14, 2003 2:28 AM

When Congress opened for business for the 108th time last week, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa had his nose pressed up against the glass waiting to get in, like a housewife waiting at Macy’s for the doors to open for the sales on the day after Christmas.

Leach, a Republican (is there anything else in Washington these days?) was not waiting to buy, however. He was there to sell, specifically his bill to save the nation from itself, and from the terror of Internet betting.

We have a group of selective saviors in Washington these days. They protect us only from selected perils. Iraq’s nuclear weapons, which no one can find, are dangerous enough to go to war over, but North Korea’s, announced and in plain sight, are something we have to live with. No bluster there like Iraq. George only picks on the guys he thinks he can beat.

Congressman Leach has made the Internet his nuclear threat of choice.

It will, he says, destroy the very fabric of life in America, warp the minds of our kids, line the pockets of the money launderers, and ”” from his point of view ”” push the flag high enough that the heartland folks who sent him to Washington will be paternally proud and eternally grateful.

What is the name of that new show that Penn and Teller are starting on TV later this month? It starts with Bull and ends in T, and it fits Mr. Leach’s bill perfectly.

There are, of course, mixed emotions about Internet wagering in Las Vegas among the people who sell gambling here.

They fear the Internet big time, except for a few like Terry Lanni, who recognized the inevitability of it early on and decided that it was better to get on the train than have it run over you.

Others have vied for the Vacillation of the Year award ”” or is it the Hypocrisy Handicap? ”” on the issue of Internet gaming. They don’t want it, but they sure want a piece of it if it arrives alive and legal.

Mr. Leach hit upon a clever way to kill online betting in this country. Cut off its head.

If you’re going to bet, you need money. Cash, however, doesn’t travel well on the Internet. Not enough bandwidth. Credit cards or checks or other bank instruments are a better fit, and if you make those illegal tender you have derailed the train and disrupted the traffic.

So Leach’s bill does just that. It illegalizes the normal means of commerce.

If this merely stopped betting on the Internet in St. Kitts or a dozen other places in the Caribbean, it wouldn’t be too bad.

But it might do much more than that. It could, depending on interpretation and enforcement, disrupt betting between states where such wagering is legal. It also tries to tamper with the worldwide reach of the Internet, which is a totally different matter.

This is not Cedar Rapids or Des Moines we’re talking about. It is the world, and while George Bush may think he can control it with Dick and Rummy and Karl and Condoleesa ”” which is highly questionable ”” Jim Leach of Iowa is less likely to reach.

The Strip did not become what it is today because of topless showgirls. That’s not what "strip" means in the context of Vegas. The Strip grew with Las Vegas because Americans (and Asians and a lot of others) like to gamble, and no one from Iowa or anywhere else is going to stop them for very long.

People like to drink, too, and the guy who tried to stop them from doing that ”” a guy named Andrew Volstead ”” is now a footnote in the back of an unabridged dictionary.

Jim Leach may get the job done with his bill ”” H.R. 21 ”” for a quick moment in time. He is not Atlas, however, and the weight of the world is more than he can handle. Long run, it will plow him under like an Iowa cornfield.