Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Oboist jailed for victimless "crime"

To me, this story is a real desk-pounder. H. David Meyers, 62, is a skilled classical oboist, having performed in Carnegie Hall at 15 and recorded last year, with the St. Persburg Philharmonic, a Beethoven concerto whose score had been lost for almost 200 years.

But classical music provides only a few practitioners a decent full-time income, alas. Meyers had a sideline. Between 2001 and 2004, according to court papers, he operated a business called Sports International that solicited and helped place thousands of bets on sporting events. It was apparently fairly sophisticated, Working with his brother-in-law, Meyers gave prospective bettors passwords and access to a toll-free phone line that connected them to a betting parlor in Dominica.

Meyers copped a plea to spare his family, he says, but he told a reporter he still doesn't think he had done anything illegal. He was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Whether he did anything illegal or not, he didn't do anything I view as wrong. People bet on sporting events all the time. Some of them may become seriously addicted to gambling and wreck their lives, of course, but not all of them. The governors of states place friendly wagers on the outcome of the Super Bowl and other events. States sponsor and run lotteries.

Making such activities illegal only makes them more lucrative and pays premiums to those most skilled at concealment and sometimes (if deemed necessary) violence. Gambling would do considerably less social harm if it were all out in the open. Illegality also protects those gambling interests favored by the State from competition, which may be the real reason for making some kinds of gambling illegal.

So here's a talented musician still in what is something of a prime for classical musicians with his life ruined -- he's been forced to sell the house with the government taking whatever profit ensues -- because he did what the best businessmen do -- provide a service that people want and are willing to pay for.

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