Most days, I'd rather be responsible for booking Martha Stewart on Def Comedy Jam than asking Congress to intervene on behalf of my portfolio. But today, that's what I'm going to do.
Late yesterday, the House Financial Services Committee and Chairman Barney Frank said it will hold hearings on Friday to determine whether Internet gambling can be regulated in a way that balances individual freedom with consumer protection.
Seems sensible enough to me. I only wish legislators had been thinking this clearly eight months ago, when the president signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act. The law makes transactions between banks (or credit card companies) and online gambling establishments illegal.
Well, most gambling establishments. YouBet.com (Nasdaq: UBET ) , which uses the Web to facilitate wagering on horse races, went unaffected. So did state-run lotteries. Poker rooms like those operated by PartyGaming and 888 Holdings, however, were forced to walk away from millions in revenue.
So was Neteller, a U.K.-based electronic-payments processor in which I own shares. Neteller derived 83% of its first-half, 2006, non-interest revenue from North America, and its shares are down 50% since the bill became law.
Surely risk is a part of investing. And I understand that the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours nature of lawmaking in this country can be like a protection racket. Here, it seems to have aided big operators like Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN ) , Las Vegas Sands (NYSE: LVS ) , and MGM Mirage (NYSE: MGM ) , while completely disregarding the (mostly) law-abiding online poker players.
Bad move. Read this commentary by our Foolish gaming expert, Jeff Hwang, for all the reasons why. He makes the argument far more eloquently than I can. All I'll add is this: Rarely is anyone, let alone our elected representatives, given a clear-cut chance to right a wrong. But that's what you now have, Chairman Frank. Please take it.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers hasn't played poker online in years. Come to think of it, he hasn't played live poker in a while, either. Tim owns shares of Neteller, but no shares of any of the other companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Last night, The Motley Fool's disclosure policy pushed all-in with A-K of spades only to be rivered when the guy in seat No. 3 caught a 7 to make his gutshot straight.