One of the most turbulent presidential election cycles in modern history could grow even stranger now that the Libertarian Party has put together what many are calling its best ticket to date.
At the top of the Libertarian Party’s presidential ticket is former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. His running mate is former Massachusetts Governor William Weld. Both were popular, two-term Republican governors in states considered to be Democrat strongholds.
They say this in life, timing is everything, and if there was ever a time for a legitimate third-party candidacy to emerge, 2016 is the year. And if you’re not enamored with the choices put forth by the Republicans and Democrats, and you’re a supporter of U.S. online poker and gambling, you really couldn’t ask for a better candidate than Johnson.
The libertarian appeal to the poker community
Johnson was the Libertarian candidate in the 2012 election, and gained a small, but not insignificant following by aligning with a group of libertarian-minded people who felt the government was encroaching on their personal liberties… poker players.
Johnson made online gambling one of his core issues, and a centerpiece of his campaign platform in 2012. In doing so, he rallied quite a bit of support previous Libertarian candidates were unable to garner. The support didn’t result in votes — Johnson tallied about 1 percent of the total popular vote in 2012. His campaign did set the groundwork for 2016, and thanks to the absolute circus the 2016 campaign has turned into, people are looking for any reasonable alternative.
Johnson is currently polling at about 10 percent when his name is added to the mix. If this number continues to grow, this could be the year the pundits stop deriding a vote for a third-party candidate as a wasted vote.
Johnson and online gambling
Johnson will likely make the same overtures to the poker and online gaming community this time around. And with the nationwide attention daily fantasy sports has garnered — another issue Johnson has come out with a strong opinion on — this base support from the personal freedom/online gaming advocacy crowd will be even larger in 2016.
Johnson could also garner support by staking out an anti-PASPA position, as sports betting has also entered the public discussion.
“Governor Johnson has strongly condemned the federal crackdown on online poker, arguing that the right to assume risk and to gamble (in the privacy of one’s own home, no less) is a basic right that should not involve the government.
“Governor Johnson has issued the following statement: “Government has absolutely no business telling Americans what they can do with their own time and their own money on their own computers, and that most certainly should apply to playing poker online. The fact that Americans are now prevented from playing online poker is an outrage. Unfortunately it is but another chilling example of how Congress and the Justice Department continue to trample on our personal liberty.”
Also, Johnson is a friend of DFS
With DFS coming under intense scrutiny last year, Johnson made a similar statement, declaring the crackdowns on DFS as infringing on the personal freedoms of Americans:
“More than 40 million Americans play fantasy sports. They use their own money, they enjoy it, and their choice to play is a personal decision. It’s like deciding to buy a cup of coffee, except that it involves some skill and offers a chance to win some money.
“But the Attorney General of New York has decided, without anything resembling due process or an understanding of how it is skill based, that New Yorkers shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice to play fantasy sports. He is trying to use the force of government to unilaterally regulate New Yorkers’ behavior, take away their freedom to have some fun — and in the process, close down businesses that are otherwise thriving.
“This in a state that has been operating a lottery for almost 50 years. In fact, New York was one of the first states in the nation to establish government-sponsored gaming.
“The Attorney General’s unwarranted attack on fantasy sports is classic government overreach. Government should protect freedom, not curtail it just because a politician wants to. When tens of millions of Americans want to engage in a fun, harmless activity, why is it any of the government’s business? There are plenty of laws on the books to protect citizens from fraud and abuse, if and when it occurs. Taking away the freedom of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers is just wrong.”
What happens if Johnson and Weld get on the debate stage?
During an early Republican primary debate, the topic of fantasy sports was broached, but it was laughed aside as a meaningless issue not worthy of mention in world full of large problems.
But that categorization is only true from a certain point of view, and the merit of discussing DFS at the presidential level depends on how you look at it.
DFS in and of itself is relatively meaningless, but in a larger context — the context of the government infringing on the rights of its citizens — it’s an ideal example of everything Libertarians espouse. Because of this, online gambling is a convenient issue that could help differentiate Libertarian ideals from Republican ideals.
But before he can highlight this deviation, Johnson needs to get himself on the debate stage.
While there are other potential ways he could get himself into a presidential debate with the two major party candidates, the easiest, and least ambiguous way for Johnson to accomplish this is to consistently poll at or above 15 percent. That is the key metric the Commission on Presidential Debates uses to determine debate eligibility.
Different from Clinton and Trump
Whether asked directly or indirectly, it goes without saying that Johnson and/or Weld would try to broach the online gambling topic at a debate. It’s one of the policy areas where Johnson (and likely Weld) have a clear position, as well as being an issue where Democrats and Republicans try to straddle the fence, often creating contradictory talking points.
If the Libertarian candidates can leverage their stance on this issue they could put Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in an uncomfortable spot, and perhaps get the general public thinking about the benefits of online gambling legalization and regulation.
(Trump could also become an opponent of online gambling, as he is now aligned with Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act, Adelson’s effort to ban iGaming on the federal level, continues to rear its head.)
Johnson, still a huge long shot
Even if everything works out perfectly for the Johnson and Weld ticket, Johnson is an extreme long shot to win a national election. However, his inclusion in the debates coupled with a potential increase in airtime for his policies and ideas, could shove what are normally overlooked issues to the forefront: online gambling, DFS and PASPA included.
For example, a recent Huffington Post column by Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis highlighted Johnson’s advocacy for poker and online gaming. (Unfortunately, the column is altogether unflattering to Johnson.) Further momentum by Johnson’s campaign could lead to more and more columnists breathing life into these topics.