Talking online gambling on KNPR

This morning I joined KNPR’s State of Nevada host Dave Berns and poker legend Howard Lederer in studio to talk about the Frank bill and the proposed legalization of online betting in the US:

Americans are expected to lose $22 billion next year via Internet betting, although the practice is technically illegal in this country. We talk with online betting supporter, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and UNLV Prof. David Schwartz.

Online Betting: News 88.9 KNPR – Nevada Public Radio.

Les Bernal, of Stop Predatory Gambling Now, and Arnie Wexler, a problem gambling counselor, rounded out the discussion. Rep. Frank was on via the magic of a previously-recorded interview.

Lederer made several cogent points about how online poker sites work, and addressed some of Bernal’s accusations about predatory gambling and online poker.

If it isn’t clear enough in my answers in this excerpt, my position is that gambling online is far more similar to gambling off-line than it is dissimilar. Any of the concerns that can be raised about online gambling–including addiction and fraud–could also be leveled against gambling off-line. This doesn’t, however, mean that online gambling shouldn’t be legalized. Rather, we simply need to be realistic about our expectations of what it will and won’t entail.

Throughout American history (indeed, world history), there have been real discussions about the role of gambling in society. At some times, it’s completely outlawed. At others, it’s tolerated on the margins, and, as has become increasing common, it’s often legalized and promoted.

Once the decision is made to take gambling out of the back alleys, distinctions between what kinds of gambling are permitted begin to confuse the issue. As I said on the air, is there really that much of a difference, from a public policy standpoint, over whether someone takes $50 and buys instant lottery tickets at a convenience store or uses that $50 to set up an account and play poker? They’re both gambling, after all.

If states not only allow, but actually encourage people to do the former, why not allow them to do the latter?

I think that both those who support online gaming and those who are opposed to it have gotten too far away from this basic question. Emotions run high on both sides of the issue–those who want to play online see any prohibition as trampling their liberty, and those who fear the expansion of gambling see the threat of a “casino that never closes” in every dorm room.

In the United States, there is no fundamental right to gamble. In two states, gambling of any kind is entirely illegal. The other 48 states, however, allow various forms of gambling. In this case, the question stops being one of crime control and starts being one of regulation. Privileging one form of gambling over another–lotteries vs. casinos in South Carolina, or casinos vs. lotteries in Nevada–can be seen as hypocritical and archaic.

Likewise, there are already “casinos that never close” within a short drive of most Americans. In fact, federal, state, and local governments spend millions of dollars to maintain infrastructure that allows citizens to access these casinos anytime they wish. But no one would argue that we need to dismantle the roads because they can bring people to casinos.

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