MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill that made it illegal for Americans to use credit cards or checks for online gambling. In the curious ways of Washington, it was later incorporated into a law concerning port security. Well, now, just a year after that legislative crackdown on Internet gambling. Congressman Barney Frank - the Massachusetts Democrat, who's chairman of the House Financial Services Committee - is proposing a repeal of that ban and the legalization of Internet gambling. Barney Frank joins us from Boston. Welcome…
Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): Thank you.
SIEGEL: …to the program. First of all, what is your motive here? Is it libertarian? Is it to achieve more revenues for the government by taxing activity? What is it?
Rep. FRANK: It's libertarian. I am appalled at the notion that the government tells adults that they cannot do certain things with their own money on their own time in ways that do not harm anybody else because other people disapproved of them. I vigorously oppose that bill when it came out. I was kind of lonely at the time. But since then, a number of my colleagues and there's some people who do not think it is any of our business to tell them whether or not to play poker.
But my motive is overwhelmingly that I just don't want to see the government telling people what to do.
SIEGEL: Keyword that you used there was adults. Some people would say what's different about the Internet is that you can't even hear the voice of the person on the other end. That it's a medium heavily used by youngsters and that there would be no effective way of knowing whether somebody is of age or not as they're racking up gambling losses.
Rep. FRANK: That, of course, is true for a whole range of things. We allow people to buy wine over the Internet. We have them buy other products over the Internet. I believe there are ways where you can deter younger people who do - you never have absolute perfection. But I honestly don't believe that's the real reason. I think what we have is a kind of unfortunate liberal-conservative consensus that gambling is wrong and that we therefore have the ability to prevent adults from doing it.
SIEGEL: You said a liberal-conservative consensus. What are the different threads, you think, that meet over other gamblers?
Rep. FRANK: Well, on the conservative side, it's sort of morally-based. There are conservatives who think that gambling is immoral. Apparently they are not visible to me, but I don't claim to be the greatest scholar. Biblical injunctions against gambling or otherwise we will note that - they appear to have a fairly obscured exception for bingo.
Some of my liberal friends, it's a combination - I honestly believe that to a lot of liberals, gambling is just tacky, and they don't think people should do it. I find with a lot of liberals that their reaction to gambling is like a lot of conservatives' reaction to pornography. They just don't approve of it. They don't think it's a good thing to do. And therefore, they feel entitled to legally prevent other people from doing it.
There's then also the argument, which I find - I'm very dubious about. It is we must protect the poor people from this. I'm dubious because much of the argument that comes from my conservative friends about protecting the poor people from this comes from people who are not interested in protecting the poor people from anything else.
SIEGEL: You said you felt a little lonely in your opposition. Last year, there were over 300 members voting for the anti-…
Rep. FRANK: Yes.
SIEGEL: …online gambling bill, including - I believe - now Speaker Pelosi. I don't want to belabor gambling metaphors here, but it's a long-shot here, you know?
Rep. FRANK: Oh, no question. I have seen that. And that - but I felt very strongly about - actually, I will say this, a number of my colleagues who voted for it didn't give it a lot of thought. You know, sometimes people give a lot of thought to votes, and then other times they don't. I think this was other times.
It wasn't seemed that all serious. What's happened is my colleagues have discovered that there are a lot of our fellow citizens who like to gamble and they like to gamble over the Internet, and they are very angry. It's interesting, there's a segment of the population, frankly - this isn't all that political - there are people who are watching whatever Texas Hold'em poker instead of C-SPAN. And now, they're watching C-SPAN and they're angry at the people who did this.
So I know for sure that there are people going about their business, not paying a lot of attention to politics, and all of a sudden they found that the Congress had decided that they couldn't play poker over the Internet. They couldn't play cards over the Internet. And they're not happy people.
SIEGEL: How much money would taxing Internet gambling bring in to the federal government?
Rep. FRANK: Well, in the bill I am - not a lot - I really want to make it very clear, that's not my major focal point here. Potentially this could be a useful source of revenue just like any other business. But I do want to stress, my main motivation here is that I do think I should mind my own business and I want to deal with the environment, and I want to deal with economic problems, and I want to deal with poverty and all these other things. But I spend a lot of energy trying to protect people from other people. I have none left for protecting people from themselves.
SIEGEL: Well, Congressman Frank, thank you very much for talking with us.
Rep. FRANK: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: Congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Committee on Financial Services.