Congress Made Bad Call On Online Gambling

05 February 2007

Daily Breeze
February 4, 2007

The best bet would be for the government to lift the online gaming ban and instead license, regulate and tax Web sites that seek American bettors.
Daily Breeze editorial

Super Bowl Sunday is a good time to examine the federal government’s hypocritical relationship with gambling. Betting at Native American casinos on federal land is fine. Wagering in Nevada and New Jersey is OK, too. State lotteries are great. So is the stock market.

As long as the government is in on the action (taxes), placing a C-note on the Bears or the Colts is as moral as eating apple pie.

But don’t dare use your BlackBerry or laptop to visit an offshore gaming Web site. If you do that, you lock the Internal Revenue Service out of the take and offend the “legitimate gaming” lobby.

It’s time to sack the online gaming ban, which makes criminals out of people who may not always have the best judgment but aren’t doing anything that hurts others. There are, of course, gambling addicts, but the vast majority of players aren’t. Banning online gaming for that reason is about as wise as banning pinot noir because some people sip too much of it.

Like other pronouncements against “sin,” the government crackdown is creating crime where it shouldn’t need to exist. The prime beneficiaries of the assault on computer wagering appear to be local bookies and illegitimate Web sites run by organized crime, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Apparently some of those who want to place bets on the big game are too scared to do so from their computers, which are easy to trace, but they don’t mind risking a call to a guy who looks like one of “The Sopranos” and collects in person (scary). Some Americans are still taking chances; some gaming sites in Costa Rica and other countries are still accepting action from the United States.

Americans last year bet $94.5 million on the Super Bowl in legitimate Nevada casinos. That’s just a fraction, considering what went to offshore and into office pools. This year, the Silver State expects to take in more than $100 million from rollers high and low.

People clearly want to bet on sports, and they are increasingly using computers to direct their money to where they want it to go, the right of anyone in a free society. Gambling is a form of speculating, and if someone thinks he can get a greater return on the Super Bowl than he can on Ford stock, why not let him?

The best bet would be for the government to lift the online gaming ban and instead license, regulate and tax Web sites that seek American bettors. Under this system, online firms would have to obtain proof of age, not just accept credit card numbers, and audits could single out those who need counseling.

Gambling is governed by an unbeatable market force. Whether it’s illegal, tolerated or legal, online gambling should not be subject to an unrealistic blanket ban by the government.