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3/29/2007
02:59 PM
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Gambling With The Internet

When Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which forced online gambling companies to adhere to federal and state gambling laws, it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary to assume that the reason for the crackdown was the attempt to protect compulsive gamblers from descending into a morass of debt via their home computers. But, like many other "sin" regulations, the real story is a lot more complex -- and money has more to do with it than morals.

When Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which forced online gambling companies to adhere to federal and state gambling laws, it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary to assume that the reason for the crackdown was the attempt to protect compulsive gamblers from descending into a morass of debt via their home computers. But, like many other "sin" regulations, the real story is a lot more complex -- and money has more to do with it than morals.The entire fascinating story can be found in Alice LaPlante's article Online Gambling Gone Wild: U.S. Crackdown Sparks Offshore Boom. She cites Tom W. Bell, a professor at the Chapman University School of Law, who believes that a driving force behind the ban on online gambling is the land-based gambling industry (you know, all those Las Vegas and Reno casinos), which doesn't want the competition.

Bell also adheres to the idea (illustrated by 1920s Prohibition) that people will gamble online either through legitimate sites or more shady ones, and if you eliminate the one, you'll encourage the other. Meanwhile the Europeans are getting into the picture as well -- although they are the ones who are profiting, since many of the companies that were involved in online gambling technology in the United States have moved their operations overseas. Last February, the World Trade Organization said it was going to try to prove the United States was guilty of breaking international trade laws by by banning online -- read: international -- gambling operations.

Now, I've never been much of a gambler -- my only foray into real gambling was once, as an experiment, dropping $50 at a blackjack table in Las Vegas during a trade show -- so all this doesn't affect me personally. And I don't know (or, at least, I don't think I know) anyone who either has a gambling problem, or who spends a lot of time at online gambling sites. But I am very interested in the way that the Internet is slowly affecting our legal and political system, whether it's the ramifications of a ban on online gambling, the effect of the Child Online Protection Act on free speech rights, or the slow and steady pressure that sites like YouTube are putting on our copyright laws.

How we deal legally with the Web will affect our dealings with the rest of U.S. society -- and, for that matter, international society -- for many years to come.

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