The Daughter Test and Why Steve Levitt is Angry About the Online Poker Crackdown

Economist Steve Levitt says he would love it if his daughter grows up to be a professional player like Annie Duke, winner of the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

As an economist, Steven Levitt says he has an underdeveloped moral compass. In the past, the University of Chicago professor and Freakonomics co-author has tricked colleagues into drinking cheap wine and opined that drug dealers in Sao Paulo would do a better job keeping communities safe.

But his moral compass went spinning when the U.S. recently cracked down on the top three online poker companies, resulting in 11 indictments. The federal government accused PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker of running their operations illegally, including paying banks to secretly process transactions.

“I think it makes no sense at all,” Levitt says. “Most things that are made illegal, everyone agrees on: homicide, theft–there’s a general agreement. And then there are these other activities that fall into a gray area. I think poker is so obviously on one side of the gray area relative to legality that it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Levitt says he doesn’t usually get riled up over such issues, but then he realized why he got so angry: his daughter.

“It’s what I call the Daughter Test,” he says. “If the prohibited activity is something I’d think that would actually be good for my daughter to be able to do, then I am in favor of it being legal. But if the activity is something that I would feel terrible if my daughter did, then I would want it to be illegal.”

The economist provides an example: cocaine. Although he says the U.S. is better off legalizing and then regulating the drug, the thought of his daughter becoming an addict is enough for him to side with his paternal instincts.

But what if she wants to become the next Annie Duke?

“How would I feel if my daughter wanted to grow up to be a professional poker player? I think, ‘Well, that wouldn’t be so bad.’ I mean, I would rather have her be a great economist or a professional golfer, but if she had to be something, a professional poker player wouldn’t be a bad thing for her turn out to be. And in the realm I think, why in the world should we make any activity illegal if a father says, I’d actually be happy?”

On Marketplace, hear Levitt and Tess Vigeland talk about how the government should approach regulating online poker.

Here’s where to find Marketplace on the radio where you live.

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  1. Christopher Kloess says:

    Who said that just because your daughter was addicted to poker she would be successfully at poker?

    More likely than being a successful professional poker player,

    What if your daughter was cheated by a con? What if your daughter wasted her inheritance on playing poker? What if your daughter turned to crime to pay for her addiction?

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  2. Mark says:

    The daughter test doesn’t work. I don’t want my daughter growing up to be a porn star but that doesn’t mean I think porn should be illegal. Besides it makes it sound like you think government’s role is to treat its citizens like children and only allow certain activities. Govt’s role should be to keep the roads paved and otherwise leave us alone.

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  3. Michael says:

    So according to Steve Levitt’s “Daughter Test”, we should also ban alcohol since who would want their daughter to grow up to be an alcoholic right? Or even legally consume a substance that alters her mind that might make her do things she and Steve Levitt would disapprove of. And how about also banning cigarettes since I’d assume Steve would not want his daughter to grow up addicted to nicotine and increasing her risk of lung cancer. If Steve is all for banning those two substances, then at least his “Daughter Test” would be consistent. But somehow, I believe Steve’s political and moral values contradict each other to where he cannot even apply his own made up test on himself.

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  4. Miguel says:

    That abysmally bad argument again? It was bad enough the first time. After all the fair criticism his “test” drew (from the econ blogosphere, no less), he should have seen his error already.

    Anyway, I can’t resist. What if he doesn’t want his daughter to become a waitress? He wouldn’t mind a whole profession being outlawed?

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  5. audrey says:

    I would expect money laundering to be illegal, or cheating on online poker sites to be illegal. If my daughter was playing poker online, I’d want any money she was putting in to be going to the place she thought it was, and for the company to be paying taxes etc. It is illegal to not pay taxes for example.

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  6. Andrew says:

    My neighbor lost his house and car to gambling.

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  7. crquack says:

    So drug addiction is a problem. Gambling addiction is not.
    Why are we re-hashing this again?

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  8. Arun says:

    What ever happened to the pokernomics project?

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