Bettors Deserve Better - Crusade against online sports gambling is unfair

16 August 2006

SI.com
Justin Doom > Doom’s Day
Tuesday August 15, 2006 4:12PM

The only safe place to bet on sports is in Las Vegas.

At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before I’m in jail. In fact, I wonder what the odds on that would be. Maybe I can find a Web site that will offer a line. But I’d better find it soon.

Did you hear what happened to the folks over at BetOnSports.com? After recently being singled out and indicted by U.S. prosecutors, the Web site, which according to The New York Times took between 70 and 80 percent of its wagers from U.S. residents, announced last week that it will shut down most of its operations.

David Carruthers, the former CEO of BetOnSports, was arrested at the Dallas-Forth Worth airport last month during a layover. Carruthers’ company has been charged with, as the Times story noted, “running an illegal gambling operation.” The story continued: “United States prosecutors assert that offshore Internet casinos violate the Federal Wire Act of 1961. Legal experts, noting that the position is untested, say the law seems reasonably construed to cover sports betting but is less clearly applicable to casino games, like blackjack and poker. The House of Representatives recently passed legislation to strengthen the laws against operating Internet casinos but the Senate has not yet passed the legislation.” Prosecutors are seeking a $4.5 billion penalty against BetOnSports and its execs.

So now, instead of just keeping careful track of how much money I bet on sports, I’ll now have to track exactly how I do it, to say nothing of my meager online poker expenses. (By the way, as of June 7, playing online poker in the state of Washington is a felony. A felony!)
Carruthers remains in custody as I sit here in front of a keyboard, literally two or three clicks away from putting 20 bucks on the Bears (-3 at -125) at Green Bay in Week 1. If I lived in Las Vegas, things would be much easier. I wouldn’t have to worry about how to lay down my bet. A quick 10-minute drive to my local sportsbook and that would be that.

So many things about this case confuse me. Allegedly, online gaming sites are violating the Federal Wire Act. But why doesn’t the government just fess up about why it’s really cracking down on this type of behavior? It wants to get paid. BetOnSports, shares of which are publicly traded in Britain, went public in 2004 and raised more than $100 million. Last month, when trading stopped, the shares were worth $234 million. Because online poker sites and sports betting sites are set up offshore, or, in at least one case, in Canada, the U.S. government can’t tax them. And these businesses rake in billions. Uncle Sam wants his slice of the pie.

Oh, yeah, the “moral obligation” to prevent people from gambling. That’s right. I can gamble on stocks online — or live, or give thousands to a broker, or buy and sell houses in a volatile real-estate market — but not a sports team or pocket aces. I can walk into any casino in America, a number of which are on Native American land, and throw down some change. That’s fine. And while not every non-Vegas, non-Atlantic City casino is on Native American land, many of those that are receive tax breaks, to say nothing of the myriad tax breaks granted throughout history to corporations with offshore “offices.” Yet if I want to put 10 bucks on the Monday-night game, I’m some sort of criminal? I just don’t get it.

Sure, gambling can be tough on some people. It’s a vice. But instead of shutting down online gaming operations, here’s a better idea: Tax them and put the majority of that money into local Gamblers Anonymous programs. Do something good with it. Prohibition doesn’t work. Speaking of which, remember the last time you watched an NFL game and didn’t see a beer commercial? Me too: never. So, to recap: Drinking is great. Online gambling? Not so much.

Given the current state of the world, the wars, the threats of terrorism, to say nothing of domestic issues such as fixing Social Security or figuring out proper immigration reform, somehow Congress and its lapdog attorneys feel the best way to spend taxpayer money is to go after Web sites that provide a nice distraction from the drudgery of everyday life. Kind of funny if you think about it. Not “laugh out loud” funny, but more “something you’d read in a Kurt Vonnegut novel” funny.

If only I could bet against Congress making good decisions. If only I could do so online.

Justin Doom can be reached at sidoomsday@yahoo.com.
SI.com – Writers – Justin Doom

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