Should Online Gambling Be Legal?

Last week, the Philippines opened a $1 billion casino to compete with Macau, Las Vegas, and Singapore as one of the major gambling destination in the world. In addition to the usual amenities, it will also have a Broadway-style theater to attract more patrons. In the U.S., lawmakers are placing their bets on online gambling (I-gaming).

They've got good reasons to support online gambling. It's cost-efficient and lures future patrons into casino establishments.

Recently, New Jersey became the third state (after Delaware and Nevada) to legalize internet gambling. As a sign of how competitive the gaming market has become, Revel resort, Atlantic City’s newest and most expensive casino ($2.4 billion) had filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month despite it being opened for less than a year. 

The bill includes provisions such as imposing a 10-year trial period, allows patrons to bet online with any of the 12 Atlantic City casinos, but most importantly — it increases the tax on casino profits from 10% to 15%. This will put the squeeze on AC casinos already facing deep competition from casinos in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the financial revenue gained from I-gaming, another reason that proponents support this initiative is that internet betting sites are offshore, un-taxed and unregulated. To ease your social conscience, you can go bet with a legal casino. Much like purchasing counterfeit goods, these offshore havens where the gambling sites are located may engage in criminal activities. 

But the ease with which online gambling can be accessed is also its downfall, especially for compulsive gamblers.

Compulsive gambling is a real illness without a "cure." It is estimated that approximately 350,000 New Jersey residents are afflicted with some degree of gambling problem. This figure will surely increase once I-gaming becomes the norm. According to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) a support group for compulsive gamblers, the nature of this illness doesn’t diminish by time:

One can go for prolonged periods without any problems but the temptation is always there. It's best to know what one’s trigger points are because it's never really about the addiction.  Even if you aren't a compulsive gambler, it's easy to forget that it's real money that you're gambling with.

The general acceptance of casino activity and games has even spread to our smartphones. Casino games are now a new category in iTunes. The sheer number and variety of casino apps ensures two things: we’re never bored and reinforces the idea that casino gaming is fun and harmless.

Finally, gambling at traditional casino establishments can be considered a social activity providing that you’re playing at a table with other patrons. But for compulsive gamblers, the isolation and inner turmoil fills the void as they zone out in front of the slot machines. For them, winning isn’t the object of the game. 

A compulsive gambler, Mollie tells Associate Professor Natasha Schull of MIT, “The thing people never understand is that I’m not playing to win... " The point for gamblers like Mollie was “to keep playing — to stay in that machine zone where nothing else matters.” 

For regular players, the prospect of I-gaming isn’t appealing. Sure you can gamble in your PJs, but you'd miss out on the social aspect such as commiserating with other patrons on your casino losses. Or even if you’re not a major gambler, you can enjoy the amenities offered by these establishments: concerts, spas, dining out, or watching comedy shows. These social aspects are missing when you can just as easily gamble in your hotel room as you can at home. Furthermore, some patrons make the trek out to their local casinos as a little getaway to meet with friends or family. The I-gaming aspect cuts this out. The only time that you would need to come to the physical casino location is to cash in your comps that are valid for meals, rooms or other goodies.

The only time that you would need to come to the physical casino location is to cash in your comps that are valid for meals, rooms, or other goodies.

The process to get the licensing and technical setup completed will take nearly two years to complete.  In the meantime, casinos are already scrambling to fill this void. As an example, at The Borgata property in Atlantic City (my home base!) have set up an e-Casino.  This allows patrons to gamble virtually from the privacy of their Borgata hotel room. The necessary steps needed to setup an account are:

1. a player’s reward account (with a PIN)

2. Room password

3. eWallet Patrons need to first fund their online account in order to play. The current play limit is $2,500 and this amount can be adjusted.

 

According to their website, the eCasino games are limited to just five games for now. Furthermore, it isn’t available for play 24 hours.

I realize that we live in a digital world where the lines between what's real and what's virtual are blurry. There will be fewer places to "visit" that we haven't already seen online and for some, I-gaming may ruin the experience. Like e-shopping, gaming loyalty may be a thing of the past, as I-gaming becomes more accepted in mainstream society.