The Hypocrisy of Lotto

Question: Why is Lotto legal while poker generally is not?

James McManus: Oh, it's amazingly hypocritical to allow lotteries, bingo, suckers' games in which the more poverty-stricken folks will pour money into that they can't easily afford, or can't afford at all, and they have almost no chance of winning. And the winning -- the payouts are such a tiny fraction of what they should be given the odds against you when you buy a single lottery ticket. Meanwhile, a skill game such as poker is outlawed in, you know, a long, long list of jurisdictions. But that list is getting smaller. Meanwhile, the game has gone online, and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, which was sneakily attached to the Safe Ports Act in 2006 by Bill Frist and gleefully signed into law by President Bush, is now in the process of being overturned, repealed and replaced by a bill that's been brought to the floor of the House by Barney Frank, which says that we're going to tax and regulate the online sites, generate billions of dollars of tax income for the country, and make the sites more and more -- put them under tighter and tighter scrutiny so that everybody gets an even fairer shake.

Question: So, is online poker illegal now?

James McManus: Very few people argue that you or I sitting at our computer are breaking the law. Where it becomes -- where the UIGEA tries to insert its tentacles is when you make a bank transaction. If you are trying to take money off the site or put money onto the site via PayPal or some similar intermediary between regular folks and banks, you -- that operation can be seized, and the people who -- let me start again. The banks and the intermediaries such as PayPal are the place that the government puts the most energy in prosecution. Individual players playing online in the United States -- to my knowledge no one has been prosecuted for doing that. They can make it more difficult to get your winnings into your pocket at home. But as far as I know, nobody has been shorted by the online sites, and certainly the site that I usually play on, Full Tilt Poker, pays its customers in a very timely way one hundred percent of the time.

Why is a game with almost impossible odds that thrives on the impoverished a legitimate form of tax revenue while a skill-based game like poker is outlawed in most American jurisdictions?

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