We all knew the century had officially turned in my town when the local race track started accepting bets via the Internet.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, betting on the ponies is as much a part of some people’s days as going to work. So the idea of getting lucky with a mouse click makes our heads swim.
Online gambling is still trying to find its legs. According to a study last year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, about 1 million people gamble via the Internet daily. That meant that only 5 percent of Internet users had gambled online as of when the study was conducted.
But a lot can happen in a few months online, and suddenly Internet gambling seems to be poised to infiltrate the wired culture in a big way.
Lawmakers will still fight it, moralists will continue to badmouth it and compulsive gamblers will quickly max out their plastic, but gambling appears headed for daylight.
Take a Chance
Whether online gambling in America is a novelty act, a passing fancy or a new staple of an increasingly tech-savvy culture depends on who’s doing the talking.
When Bear Stearns decided to take some measurements, it found out almost half of all online betting revenue comes from the U.S. The revenue may not end up staying in this country — with many sites opting for safer home turf like the Caribbean — but we Americans are the ones keeping it afloat.
Almost 40 percent of online bets placed by Americans are coming from southern U.S. states. Every time we rise again here in the South, we do so in ways that defy the stifling summer heat. Betting online from the comfort of our living rooms suits us just fine.
Lawmakers or Moralists?
However, despite the collective statement from the general public that gambling online is increasingly a part of our lifestyle, many elected officials are hell bent on saving us from ourselves.
It’s in their language. U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), for example, continues to refer to the “crack cocaine of gambling.”
And it’s on their agenda. Kyl’s fellow Republican, Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, is undaunted by his failure last year to persuade the House of Representatives to stop online gambling in its tracks. This year, similar legislation was proposed again and bolstered with an attempt to limit credit card and wire transfer payments for online wagering.
The shortsightedness of these legislators is staggering. Americans are finding quick, convenient ways to gamble from their offices and homes. We will also find alternative payment vehicles for online gambling, if that’s what we have to do.
And all the while, U.S. gamblers keep upping the Internet ante. Christiansen Capital Advisors reports consumer spending on online gambling increased 80 percent in the year 2000.
This is one situation in which the lawmakers on the Hill would do well to pay attention to the numbers. Do they need a gentle reminder that they were sent to D.C. by us to represent us — and not to preach?
There is something inherently flawed in a system where the elected officials decide for the people what the people want. The last time I checked, I was capable of deciding that for myself.
Those who have followed other controversies as they developed on the Internet know that our legislators would do well to direct their attentions to something other than banning online gambling.
Many lawmakers do not appreciate the easy availability of online erotic content either. But adult content sites are among the few wildly profitable businesses on the Net.
The increase in online gambling shows that technology is, once again, faster and tougher than a group of lawmakers trying to save our mortal souls.
For that matter, somehow Goodlatte, Kyl et al. have forgotten that interactive TV looms large in the culture. One study recently predicted that by 2005 the online gambling industry will be worth about US$20 billion, while reiterating that the U.S. is the biggest market.
Try and stop a Monday Night Football fanatic from placing a wager via his TV set while he’s watching the game, once that technology is commonly available.
As inevitable as the wireless Internet (which, by the way, will take e-wagering to a whole new plateau), online gambling is ready to infiltrate a willing public, and the wait is almost over.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.