The race to legalize Internet gambling is on, and Nevada appears to have taken the early lead. And if the state which calls the world’s largest gambling destination home can manage to overcome some of its immediate obstacles, it could soon make its presence felt online. Unless the competition gets its act together, they could well be left eating the desert state’s dust.
Nevada, home to Las Vegas, Reno and Laughlin, approved the inevitable last month, officially approving the Internet version of the trade it has mastered so well for the better part of a century-and-counting. While some issues remain unresolved, such as issues of regulation, security, underage gambling and taxation, Nevada state residents and international gamblers can realistically expect to begin placing bets with them inside of two years.
Brick and mortar casinos such as the Mirage and Harrah’s are currently entered into partnerships which offer play for free websites that act as a training ground for the real deal. When they levy is lifted, expect those sites to quickly turn into play for real sites with real money changing hands and their Vegas casino brethren to be right alongside them.
The decision to go ahead and allow Nevada operators to set up shop online is of little surprise. There are estimated to be more than 1,400 casinos running online, and many other play for free sites alongside them. What is surprising, however, is the timing. It was widely thought that New Jersey would beat Nevada to the punch and legalize Internet betting. Instead, proposed legislation that would have made Jersey the first U.S. state to permit online gambling fell victim to political bungling that has resulted in mounds upon mounds of red tape.
In fact, the state has gone so far as to directly challenge casinos which have dared to use billboard advertising along the state’s main expressway into Atlantic City. They have filed three civil lawsuits against three online casinos for accepting bets from New Jersey residents. It’s unlikely that the scope of an investigation went beyond the three advertising casinos, who surely are not alone in accepting business from those within Jersey’s borders. It is more a retaliation for the supposed gall of placing ads in such a prominent place in the eastern seaboard’s gambling hotbed.
In a country the size of America, which prides itself as being a supposed world leader — economically, politically, and morally — they could learn plenty from their friends Down Under. While the U.S. Justice Department, Congress, and independent states bicker over the issues affecting the legality of online gambling, Australia’s Northern Territory is operating functional, government-licensed, fully-regulated casinos which take bets from players throughout the world. In the meantime, they are raking in millions of dollars in the process, while the U.S. throws up brick walls and twiddles its collective thumbs.
The individual state governments and federal politicians must face the fact that online gambling is an industry that has arrived, and nothing short of Big Brother will make it go away. The best, and only way, to harness the industry, is to accept it with open arms and do their best to regulate its existence. If the contention of opponents of online gambling is that the potential exists for money laundering, cheating, underage gambling, etc., then the government’s best chance to prevent its citizens from such alleged evils is to oversee the industry as a whole.
They must accept that their citizens are already gambling online, despite their protests to the contrary. Of the estimated 7 million people who will gamble online this year, more than half do so from American soil.
The online casino industry is expected to generate in excess of $3 billion in revenue this year, and skyrocket to more than $6 billion by 2003. As they sit and watch the technological world go by, the U.S. is missing out on countless millions of dollars in lost revenue. Given that the casinos would likely be required to cough up a hefty licensing fee, totaling in the millions, and that many online gamblers likely do not reporting their winning for fear of prosecution, the government is also missing out on reported income tax.
The only surefire way the government could prevent any, and all, of its citizens from spending a dime online, would be to use technology that sounds too eerily familiar to 1984 or the KGB. Given that the public would never “knowingly” stand for this, it would never be utilized.
Just as the politicians of the ’50s feared Elvis and his pelvis-thrusting rhythm, and the McCarthy Commission’s infamous communist hunt, the country’s leaders of today have to open their eyes to the state of the industry and realize that all is not bad. Obviously, there is room for improvement (as is the case with any industry still in its infancy) but without the interjection of a recognized authority such as the U.S., how will those changes come to be?
The business is booming, but at the same time, it is still in its early stages in many ways. If change is to be made, as the American government contends it must, then they should jump in while the waters are relatively calm. Once the neon lights of Vegas debut online, expect others to follow suit. That will be when the federal government’s real logistical nightmare will begin.