The chattering classes of gaming continue to ruminate on the broad idea -- and associated possibilities -- of Rep. Barney Frank's Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, introduced this spring. In its present state, it anoints those potentially "in line" to offer domestic online casino and poker games as the favored children, with sports betting's legion of devotees largely left to shift for themselves in the shadows.
This shouldn't surprise anyone. Cutting to the chase, casino games - with the inexorable Theory of Probability grinding away in their favor - are no gamble for any bank blessed with sufficient capital to weather any realistic swings of fortune, while the long-established "rake" system makes poker an eminently-bankable pastime. It would seem that the primary serious threat would be the crafting of game software which either (a) yields results which may fall into observable patterns, and/or (b) can be tampered with by someone on the inside who just might be susceptible to "influences".
As we all know, sports wagering is a different breed of cat. No matter how sophisticated the linemakers, prices are regularly posted on all sports which more precisely reflect the likely posture of the majority of bettors' dollars than act as a mirror to the true likelihood of one side or the other prevailing in a specific matchup. This means that over a significant period of time, the house can take a beating - and world governments have a long history of not wanting any part of such a delicate balancing act.
All this is what it is. It isn't pretty, and the sophisticated can readily envision some serious "politicolobbying" going down, resulting in fast action - but I'm hardly convinced that it's going to happen this year, or even next.
Meanwhile, there are some seriously-weird vibes emerging from the likes of the "Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative" folks.
SSIGI spokesman Jeffrey Sandman was recently quoted, to wit:
"Opponents of Internet gambling are using scare tactics and misstating research studies to argue that Internet gambling will result in higher occurrences of compulsive gambling."
Hear, hear. This specific line of blarney, beloved by the opposition, deserves to die a painful, lingering death. Reference is made to a recent study by the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions reflected an infinitesimal, marginal (ONE percent small enough for ya, Bunky?) incidence of marked excesses. Would that the percentage of all users who abuse hard liquor or tobacco would be as modest . . .
But I digress. After making a wholly-legitimate point, Sandman fails to maintain needed focus (in our humble view), by veering off course with this:
"The current prohibition of Internet gambling is not stopping people from gambling online and DOES NOTHING TO PROECT AGAINST PROBLEM GAMBLING (emphasis ours). The regulatory framework presented in the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, introduced by (Rep. Frank), provides an effective approach to protect consumers and ensure measures are in place to combat compulsive gambling."
More: The Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative's website's current home page (http://safeandsecureig.org) currently features such verbiage (under the heading "Why Support Lawful Internet Gambling?")as: "Proven and effective safeguards can prevent underage and compulsive gamblers from betting online."
Nobody wants the underage to be gambling online, and there are legitimate ways and means available to meaningfully minimize such exposure. And they should be explored, then evaluated. But beyond that is a most-slippery slope, one which a free people (us, still!) would and should be well-advised NOT to pursue.
Further explore the SSIGI's site, find the page headed "Addressing Compulsive Gambling", and you see the following package:
"All U. S. licensed Internet gambling operators would be required to implement safeguards to address compulsive gambling. Safeguards could:
"Track players and enforce controls to limit the amount of money wagered over a given time period.
"Identify and stop players whose gambling patterns seem out of the ordinary.
"Provide players with the option to set limits on the amount they deposit to their account and to request self-exclusion for a specific period of time.
"Cross-check databases that may be created of individuals who choose to exclude themselves from online gaming."
The case for legalized, domestic online gambling over and above what already exists (lotteries/horses) can . . . should . . . MUST be made without such overt handwringing. If broadened online gambling is going to happen in the States in a legitimate way, it must be crafted in something resembling the proper manner, or it'll wind up a gigantic heads-they-win-tails-you-lose boondoggle which isn't worthy of the sweat and strain for anyone with an IQ over 80.
So many points need to be made from here. And we'll be looking to make them in Part II, which will follow tomorrow. Readers should feel free to make suggestions and comments, and I will look to address them as they're relevant to this discussion.
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