Monday, May 2, 2011

Online Poker Issues...With a Little Education

For those of you who are interested in what I've been up to the last couple weeks, a lot of it has been working on this [PDF]. Beware, it is twenty dense pages about the ins and outs of online poker issues, with a heavy emphasis on legal interpretation.

I have questioned why I have jumped onto the online poker issue so intensely. The obvious answer is I'm incredibly biased because I was playing a lot and winning enough. But even beyond that it began to serve as an interesting gateway into a better understanding of the way our legal system actually works, the ways in which political arguments are made and the powers and limits of activism.

Essentially it has served as a microcosm of a lot of things I was seeing in other arenas, especially politics and education. My stance here, to sum up my research and opinions, are:
  • the Department of Justice violated both legal precedent and legislative intent through their interpretation and enforcement of US gambling law.
  • the DoJ's actions are essentially without checks.
  • the political climate surrounding online poker tends to be one based on dishonest assessments of issues and shameless pandering to people's fears.
  • the intentions of the DoJ remain unclear but they failed to solve any of the problems mentioned as reasons to ban online poker
  • the online poker mess has cost the US government billions of dollars over the past five years in lost tax revenue, licensing fees and trade concessions
The part of this that really speaks to me beyond the legal questions is the way political debates are conducted. The online poker debate is similar to conversations in education, and really most debates. It is easy to be sidetracked by worries that sound real and solutions that sound obvious. But if people take their time and think about the underlying reasons for taking a particular course of action the logic frequently breaks down.

An example from my paper is that outlawing online poker to protect gambling addicts, which sounds logical, doesn't stop addicts from gambling, it only stops non addicts from playing. Addicts will stop gambling when they learn to manage their addiction. Until then they will find new venues and new games. Therefore, using gambling addiction as a reason to outlaw online poker is faulty logic.

Anyone who can think of similar examples from education please pass them along. I think one possibility is teacher tenure rules are intended to protect good teachers from unfair or discriminatory termination and ensure intellectual freedom. But in many ways good teachers, who are the least likely to be terminated, are the ones punished because teacher tenure rules tend to prevent differentiation among teachers based on anything except seniority. Resulting in a situation where the least deserving of protection gain the most from the protection that is offered while the most deserving lose the most value from investing so much in protection and not enough in merit based raises and bonuses.

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