Enforcement would be like ‘herding cats’

Mar 29, 2005 8:21 AM

The concept sounds simple: Create a 250-page book of regulations, license a bunch of online casinos and rake in the tax -revenue.

It won’t happen. It can’t happen.

There are two issues at work here: The impact, if any, of newly-enacted laws on Internet gambling. And, the further proliferation of gambling into people’s private lives.

We already have online gaming. It exists in an unregulated form — off-shore companies supply the means by which Americans can bet sports, play poker or otherwise gamble away their life savings in the name of "personal entertainment."

The 1,500 to 2,000 existing Internet gambling companies, which are licensed (if at all) in jurisdictions outside of the U.S., would most likely ignore any laws passed by the federal government.

Thus, there would remain the danger of unscrupulous operators refusing to pay winners, offering dubious games of chance, making false claims, and closing up shop and setting up under another name whenever their debts become too big to honor.

Of course, legalization and regulation would spawn new online gamers, most of whom would be ready, willing and able to run an honest game. But they would have a tough time competing with the firmly-entrenched companies already operating beyond the reach of U.S. regulators.

The fact is that the Internet is so vast, so far-reaching and so all-encompassing that it’s practically incapable of being regulated. Besides boundaries that have no end, the Internet and its effect on electronic commerce cut across a myriad of points of dispute: the right to engage in business, national security, privacy, global trade, sovereignty, morality and money laundering.

The Internet has already changed the context of commerce, finance, entertainment and government taxation. Introducing a gaming bureaucracy would be an exercise in futility.

As to the issue of the proliferation, our society is at a point where gambling, in one form or another, is as commonplace as personal injury attorneys.

Gambling is legal in 48 states. Moreover, no matter where you live in the continental U.S., there is a casino, racetrack or card room within a two-hour drive.

Is it necessary to make gambling more accessible than that? I. Nelson Rose, the Whittier College law professor whose book, Gambling and the Law, chronicles the rise of gambling and its effect on our society, says that gambling worked best when it was confined to one jurisdiction — Nevada.

Professor Rose postulated that gambling was innocuous enough when visitors came to Las Vegas, lost their money then went back to their home, relatively unscathed.

Rose further theorized that, when commercial gambling is introduced into one’s "hometown," it could act like a "black hole," sucking all the life out of the community’s economic system.

Look what’s happened to Atlantic City. Imagine what it can do when introduced into a home computer.

But bringing gambling into the home is too big a risk. Underage gamblers and compulsive gamblers wouldn’t stand a chance. And let’s not make it any easier for good people to fall victim to their excesses.

Efforts by the U.S. Congress to ban online gaming have failed in recent years. Lawmakers recognized that enforcing a ban on an activity over which they have virtually no control would be like "herding cats."

In deference to our feline friends, a similar argument can be made against legalizing online betting: let sleeping dogs lie.