Editor's Note
California Lawyer

by Martin Lasden

February 2013

When should laws be passed to protect us against ourselves? Sometimes that question is resolved when enough people realize that a law, as well-intentioned as it may be, is causing more harm than good. That, of course, is exactly what happened in 1933 when the states repealed the constitutional amendment banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol.

But what makes sense for whiskey does not necessarily apply to, say, AK-47s. Even after what happened in Newtown, Connecticut, in December, though, it's far from clear that Congress will vote to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired back in 2004.

Then there are those occasions when the proliferation of new technology seems to all but assure a regrettable outcome. Online gambling may well be a good example of that.

So far, the practice is illegal in California. But with billions of dollars waiting to be made and lost, and smartphones everywhere, Thomas Peele can't imagine that this prohibition will last much longer. "Sooner or later," he says, "we're going to get a law passed that will allow anyone in the United States to whip out a handheld device and play poker."

In this month's cover story ("Wanna Bet?"), the veteran investigative reporter shows how, in the run-up to legalization, a constellation of stakeholders-from big Las Vegas gaming companies to the smallest tribal casinos-are vying for a piece of the action. It's a fascinating story, to be sure. But Peele, who worked for several years as a newspaper reporter in Atlantic City, where the gaming industry has deep roots, does not come to this subject as a neutral observer.

"I had a friend in New Jersey who was a shrink," he recalls, "and he used to tell me horror stories about all the pathological gamblers who were his patients." In fact, one patient Peele heard about was a lawyer who got so deeply into debt that he began raiding his clients' escrow accounts.

"Up till now," Peele says, "you had to go someplace to play-either get in a car or fly on a plane to get to a casino. But if the million or so compulsive gamblers in California can start playing poker within 60 seconds of activating their smartphones, that's going to make the gambling impulse a lot more challenging for them to control."

Also in this issue, Eric Berkowitz writes about Michael T. Pines ("Rage Among the Ruins"), a San Diego attorney (now disbarred) who once advised his financially distressed clients to reclaim their foreclosed homes by illegally breaking back into them. It was, needless to say, a less-than-effective legal strategy.

"In some ways I think Pines was an innocent," Berkowitz ventures. "Yet I also think Pines is too smart to be an innocent."

Innocent or not, Pines has a strong point of view, as Berkowitz's piece clearly shows.

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