The U.S. crackdown on Internet gambling, a crusade that seems to involve arresting law-abiding citizens of other countries and threatening them with long prison terms, continues to claim new victims. The latest are Stephen Lawrence and John Lefebvre, two Canadian businessmen who founded a company called Neteller, which handles payments for online gambling sites.
While the U.S. authorities would like to paint the two as criminal masterminds, the fact is that they have broken no laws in either Canada or Britain, where their company is based. Instead, they have run afoul of the hypocritical U.S. desire to restrict gambling on the Internet while allowing it to flourish at home, where it produces billions of dollars in tourism and tax revenue.
Neteller, which processed an estimated $7-billion (U.S.) in online payments last year, has become a well-respected entity with common shares that are publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange. To the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office, however, the company is "a colossal criminal enterprise masquerading as a legitimate business."
The two founders, both former Calgary lawyers who started the company in 1999, were arrested on Monday and charged with conspiring to distribute funds "with the intent to promote illegal gambling." ...
The men, neither of whom is currently an officer or director of the company they founded, are only the latest to be arrested. ...
The impetus for the arrests was legislation (passed in October) that made online gambling a crime in the United States. Until then, authorities had to rely on a 1961 law that banned "gambling by wire" (the law under which the Betonsports CEO is being held); arrests were rare. Now, executives of online gambling-related companies avoid even changing planes in the United States for fear of being arrested.
In other words, gambling is not only permitted but encouraged when it takes place at a racetrack, lottery office or casino somewhere in the United States, but becomes a heinous crime when it takes place on the Internet. The absurdity of that position makes a mockery of the law the U.S. authorities seem so eager to enforce.