The Green Felt Revolution

© Copyright 2007, all rights reserved worldwide. Gambling and the Law® is a registered trademark of Professor I Nelson Rose, Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, CA

In November 1989, the people of Czechoslovakia overthrew the Communist government in a bloodless coup, the “Velvet Revolution.” In November 2006, the voters of the United States overthrew the Republican control of Congress. In part this was due to a “Green Felt Revolution:” Poker players helped win the election for the Democrats.

More accurately, the Republicans lost, through their heavy-handed prohibition of Internet gambling.

This is not mere hyperbole on my part. Prior to entering law school, I ran political campaigns for a living. I was a published author on psephology, the study of elections.

Of course, we all know the main issues of the 2006 mid-terms were the disastrous civil war in Iraq, President Bush’s incompetence, and the widespread corruption and hypocrisy of the conservative Republican majority in Congress.

But even with all that, many races were very close. When there is less than one percent difference between winning and losing, anything that influences even a few hundred votes counts.

Take the defeat of Rep. Jim Leach (R.-Iowa). According to Dow Jones: “Leach narrowly lost his reelection bid Nov. 7 to David Loebsack, a 51%-49% upset considered by many to be election day’s biggest shock.”

Leach had served in Congress for 30 years. His re-election a 16th time from a safe Republican seat was considered more than a sure thing – he was a power to be reckoned with, for example, as the Chair of the House International Relations Committee.

But Leach had a thing about Internet gambling. The rumors in Washington, DC, are that Leach told then-Majority-Leader Sen. Bill Frist (R.-TN) that he would not support Frist’s bid for president unless Frist got an online gaming prohibition bill through Congress.

The first presidential caucuses in 2008 will be in Leach’s home state of Iowa. Leach invited Frist to “testify” at a “hearing” on Internet gambling in July 2006 in Iowa, a “hearing” that consisted solely of anti-gambling activists.

Frist rammed a prohibition through Congress, by attaching the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to the port security bill.

But for many people, this was one interference too many in their private lives. The ones most upset were not necessarily liberals, but rather libertarians.

The conservative movement in the U.S. is splintering. Although issues like gay marriage may stir up some of the elderly and religious far right, there are millions of people who really don’t care what people do in the privacy of their own homes. In fact, they simply want government to cut taxes, provide essential services and otherwise to stay out of everyone’s lives.

Voters were also turned-off by the Republican’s arrogance of power. Frist would not even allow Democrats to read the final wording of his pet anti-gambling bill.

Through publications like PokerPlayer, Leach became well-known as one of the chief opponents of Internet gaming. Players are becoming organized. Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has more than 75,000 members, all of whom received multiple emails aimed at defeating the “anti’s” in Congress.

After the election, the PPA polled 1,033 voters in Leach’s District. Among those who knew about the new law, 10% said it made them more likely to vote for Leach; but 15% said it influenced them to support his opponent.

There were 107,097 votes cast. Leach lost by 5,711 votes, 2%. Which means that if only 2,856 voters had switched, Leach would have been reelected.

It would take a detailed study to know the exact impact. Elections are also decided by how many people are motivated enough to register, to get to the polling booth and to mark either candidate’s name.

The issue of Internet gambling was a minor factor. But to say it had no impact would mean that it doesn’t matter how members of Congress vote.

I am willing to bet that Leach would still be in Congress, if he had not helped foist Prohibition 2.0 on the American people.

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.© Copyright 2007. Professor I Nelson Rose is recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on gambling law. His latest books, Internet Gaming Law and Gaming Law: Cases and Materials, are available through his website, www.GamblingAndTheLaw.com.