Is Internet gambling addictive, or do gambling addicts use the Internet?

Opponents of the online casino industry claim that the potential for increased addiction exists when making their case to banish Internet gambling from cyberspace. But is this a justified claim, or simply a method used by activists to further a cause by using figures known to be less than fallible.

One of the main arguments included in the proposed Internet Gambling Prohibition Act (S. 692) is that the potential for gambling addiction is increased dramatically due to the relative ease of access people have to the Internet and online casinos. As a result, Arizona Sen. John Kyl (R) has proposed a complete ban of online wagering. But this is neither a proper nor attainable goal and one would presume that Sen. Kyl would understand that.

Much like the prohibition of alcohol early in the 1900s, a more realistic goal is to regulate the distribution of booze, or in this instance, online gambling. There would likely be little resistance from the industry as a whole if they were given the green light to legally set up shop on American soil with the removal of current obstacles.

So instead of sweeping the problem under the rug — as an all-out ban would essentially be doing just that – the government should look at regulation as an opportunity to address the very issues they hope to avert.

Addiction, unfortunately, is a fact of human existence. A vice can range from anything as innocent as chocolate bars and coke or to the more serious, being drugs and alcohol. Some of us are predisposed to over-indulgences, however, the impact of a gambling addiction is more easily gauged because, as is human nature, we look towards numbers to justify our opinions. And because dollars and cents are the most important numbers in our daily lives — and are easily measured —, gambling addiction is considered to be one of the most serious forms of addiction.

But placing bets online will not eradicate gambling addiction. It is one of the world’s oldest forms of entertainment, dating back to the Roman Empire when they worshipped the Fortuna – the goddess of Fortune and Chance.

Throughout history, millions upon millions of people have put their money in the hands of Fortuna. How many of them would be considered addicts? If gambling were a virus that threatened to destroy lives on a mass scale, we certainly would not have evolved to the state in which we currently live.

So instead of shutting out millions of people from an occasional hobby –as it is in the vast majority of cases – the technology available today at a computer-generated casino could serve as a tool to identify and assist problem gamblers.

Unlike a land-based casino, where problem gamblers are not so easily identified, computer software can put safeguards in place to track player-betting habits and limit potential losses before the bottom falls out of their credit card balance. Should a gambler be identified as “pathological” by a particular software, they could be red-flagged and directed towards information that would inform them that they are exhibiting signs of a potentially addictive personality, offer intervention if necessary, or impose a mandated “cooling off” period. This is a technology not currently offered at a land-based casino, yet Sen. Kyl and his backers are not petitioning for the closure of the Las Vegas strip.

To again use Las Vegas as a point to counter the assumption that online casinos are the lesser of two gambling evils, land-based casinos have means in place to keep players at the table longer. Because a player is at home, they are not subjected to peer pressures to bet more than they can afford, nor can the dealer be changed should they get on a hot streak.

Home players can also opt to play in their jogging pants with a glass of coke, unlike at land-based casinos which supply attractive, scantily-clad waitresses serving free booze who serve as a distraction. There are also no fresh oxygen machines at work to help us stay awake long after we should be asleep, no lights, music, etc. Also absent is the environment, a carefully constructed arena by land-based casinos which maximizes the potential for players to bet beyond their means, are present when gambling online.

Yet another conclusion that opponents of online gaming have offered, is the potential for minors to illegally play over the Internet.

While there are no sure-fire methods to ensure that underage players will never manage to play online, current safeguards are effective and the stiff penalties facing online casino operators are strict enough to deter most from intentionally allowing a minor to gamble.

Age verification, data cross-checking, player identification software, and credit card company tracking are tools that can help minimize, if not absolutely, prevent the activity of minors at an online casino.

There are also fears bandied about that a minor who decides to go on a gambling binge can clear out the family savings account in a matter of minutes by racking up a massive credit card charge.

However, minors and the cards holders are not responsible for these charges and it is the responsibility of the casino operator to cover the bill and severe financial charges levied by the credit card issuer are enough to deter an operator from ever knowingly giving a minor access to their software. Should a minor manage to pull a fast one over on the credit card company and the casino, they must still provide identification before they receive their payment.

The efforts of Sen. Kyl and his supporters seem to be well-intentioned, but they are, unfortunately, misguided. Of course, the potential is there for gamblin; such is the case with any activity that can satisfy such a basic human desire. But before any conclusions can be drawn with respect the impact of online gambling, the question must be asked: Is Internet gambling addictive, or do gambling addicts use the Internet?

Until it can be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that banning online casinos will forever wipe out gambling addiction, then the movement to eradicate it is without merit.

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