The recent back-door legislation which outlawed online gambling in the USA has been championed as a moral cause. This is in direct opposition to a Gallup Poll taken earlier this year which found that 60 percent of adults believe gambling is morally acceptable.
Chief sponsor Jim Leach (R-Iowa) has called it one of the most important pieces of family legislation ever considered by lawmakers. Although by his own admission, gambling is not prohibited by either the Bible or the Quran, he sees a pastoral function in the new law, in that it will protect the rapidly-eroding values of family life.
Others see more of a self-promoting political function in the legislation, believing it was intended to gain support from the religious right for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist if he decides to run for president in 2008.
Gambling in itself is not inherently immoral. Many people enjoy a flutter, spending a small proportion of their leisure money on their chosen sport, whether it be poker, football or horse racing. At this level, it is little more than an innocent pastime.
It can, of course, become an addiction which then has serious consequences. When money earmarked for family welfare is wasted on gambling then it does becomes immoral. But it is no more so than any other activity which diverts money from its intended course.
And if gambling is so immoral, why is Las Vegas still allowed to flourish?
One argument would be that it’s too easy to bet online. The convenience of online gambling is undoubted – that’s part of its attraction. But that convenience lends itself to unparalleled transparency. As all transactions are conducted through credit cards, it’s relatively easy to see who’s betting what and where. It is thus much easier for the industry to monitor activity and set session limits – on how long people play, and how much they lose.
Any number of arguments could be proposed and countered.
But the truth is that this is not about morality. If it was, the hardcore pornography that floods the internet from the USA would have been targeted years ago. Not to mention the illegal piracy market which costs legitimate business millions each year.
This is really a battle between the established land-based US casino industry and the offshore online market.
Given that most online casinos are listed on the UK stock exchange, it’s no wonder the UK is government now pushing for standardised legislation which will essentially give them control over the future of the industry.
The British view is that gambling is a legitimate business and while there are potential problems associated with online gaming, it is better all round for it to be regulated by government.
The US stance on online gambling is a smokescreen. The real reason the legislation was passed was to give control of US gambling back to the established land-based casinos.
But the UK and EU will not change their attitudes towards gambling, so the online gambling industry will continue to grow. Given time, US gamblers will find a way round this dubious legislation, even if it means opening accounts with offshore banks.
Which leads to a very interesting two horse race. The established US casinos, with the implicit consent of their moralising government, will soon launch their own online sites in a bid to take back control of their industry. In the meantime, the UK and EU based casinos will do all they can to entice those US players into defecting.
Who comes out on top is a matter for debate. What isn’t is the fact that this ill-conceived and hypocritical piece of legislation will one day be overturned and consigned to the rubbish bin of history where it undoubtedly belongs.
By Andy Follin
Andy Follin is a dedicated leisure gambler and author of a gamblers’ advice site. He is also an ardent opponent of hypocrisy, especially that which hides behind the banners of religion and morality.