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Ban Collusive Cheaters For Life

It appears that convicted collusive cheater Massimo Lanzarotti has been readmitted to the ACBL. That move has been decried in many circles, but there is a  substantial portion of the bridge community which believes that collusive cheaters should not generally receive lifetime bans.  We can call these two groups the "Life Crowd" and the "Second Chance Crowd" for ease of reference.

Having had countless conversations with members of both groups, I think I have a decent understanding of both mindsets.  I believe most members of the Second Chance Crowd have made an important analytical mistake.  I wish to explain that mistake here in the hopes that our community can come together behind lifetime bans for convicted collusive cheaters, especially those who made their living playing bridge.

The Cheaters Won The Propaganda War

For those who seek to mold public opinion, framing the question itself is probably the highest-impact move that they can make.  Whatever our political views on estate taxes, we can all agree that an "inheritance tax" sounds more appealing than a "death tax."  Similarly, a poll question asking, "Do you support community policing?" would receive a higher number of yes votes than "Do you support diverting police resources from investigating serious crimes into community policing?"  Framing isn't everything, but you can see from these two examples that it's a pretty big deal.

For many years, the cheaters and their apologists have sought to frame the question of punishment in criminal justice terms.  They talk about cheaters having "served their time" and the possibility of "rehabilitation".  The choice of this language was not accidental-- it was a conscious effort to frame the question in a manner which would arouse popular sympathy.  Most people don't believe in life sentences for all but the most serious crimes (if at all), and surely cheating a bridge is not akin to committing a murder.  I believe that most of the Second Chance Crowd have unconsciously been swayed by this framing.  However, as I will argue below, this framing is not an apt one.

Playing Organized Competitive Bridge Is A Privilege

The main difference between a prison sentence and a bridge punishment is this: a prison sentence takes away freedom to which the guilty party would normally be entitled as both a social and human right.  Therefore, the authorities need to justify every minute of that punishment as fair and necessary in order for the punishment to be considered just.  By contrast, the bridge community is a group of individuals who choose to associate with one another.  Nobody is presumptively entitled to membership in that community-- there is no inherent individual right to play organized bridge.

To be clear: I'm not saying that denying people membership to our community for a bad or arbitrary reason would be justified.  Excluding people from almost anything without a sound rationale is morally questionable.  But here we have the best of reasons.  Collusive cheating strikes at the very heart of the game.  It ruins our collective enjoyment, distorts the accuracy of the results, and sullies the game's reputation.  It is easy to see why we our community would not want collusive cheaters to rejoin.

Cheating Professionals Have Shown A Substantial Financial Profit From Their Actions

In the case of cheating bridge professionals, the offense is more grave.  Many of the convicted cheaters made millions of dollars playing the game professionally, money which they never would have made had they been competing honestly.  If non-professional players were offered millions of dollars each to give up the game for life, you can bet there would be quite a few takers. 

Essentially, that's the trade that cheating professionals have made, except that their version was slightly more attractive.  First of all, there was no guarantee that the cheaters would ever be caught, so some had career possibilities for eight-figure hauls.  Secondly, if a cheater did get caught, there was always the possibility that some softhearted committee would eventually allow him a second chance, its memory of the cheater's grievous wrongs dulled by the passage of time.  I find it ironic when I hear someone argue that these cheaters have "paid the price" for their actions when they have done just the opposite, enriching themselves unjustly at all of our expense.

We Should View Regulation Of Bridge As Analogous To That Of The Securities Industry

If the criminal justice analogy doesn't hold for bridge cheaters, what is a fair framing of the issues?  I'd argue that treating cheating professionals as the securities industry treats its criminals can't be too far wrong.  The securities markets are based on trust, just like competitive bridge.  Players are on an honor system in both paradigms.  If one member cheats, the entire community suffers from reputational loss in both cases.  And serving as a securities professional is a privilege, not a right, just as is playing organized bridge.

In the securities context, a lifetime ban is considered a lesser punishment  than a short prison term.  If you google around, you can find many cases in the USA where criminals settled for lifetime industry bans rather than risk prison.  (In theory, the two inquiries are parallel in the USA, but in practice what often happens is this: the criminal settles the SEC's investigation by agreeing to a lifetime ban and no admission of wrongdoing, and the government abandons the criminal investigation which could lead to jail time.)  In addition, these lifetime securities bans are often accompanied by a requirement that the criminal disgorge his ill-gotten gains.

If we view cheating bridge professionals through this lens, it is apparent that a lifetime bridge ban is a relatively moderate punishment.  Their actions constituted a clear criminal fraud which could have led to jail time.  Furthermore, when cheaters received their lifetime bans, there was no disgorgement requirement, so their crimes quite literally did pay.

No Cheaters Can Be Allowed Back While They Still Show A Profit From Their Actions

If you've gotten this far, you'll realize that I view a lifetime ban for cheating professionals as fairly lenient.  Your mileage may vary.  However, I hope we can all agree that at a minimum, nobody should be readmitted to organized bridge until they have disgorged every cent of their ill-gotten gains.  In order to avoid a conflict of interest on the part of bridge authorities, the relevant funds should be donated to a mutually agreeable charity.  I would propose going even a step further, requiring disgorgement as a precursor to cheaters reapplying for membership.  We can't seriously believe that someone has remorse for their thievery while they are still living in fine style off the proceeds.

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