“Online gamblers are not necessarily losing a lot of money; they are just on there 14 hours a day to the detriment of their work and family life. Problem gambling is not just about the money. ”
– Keith Whyte, National Council on Problem Gambling
In our last two posts, we discussed the newly pending legislation in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives and the huge boon it could be to the online poker industry. In this post, we will discuss the other side of the coin – the people and organizations who are against online poker and online gambling in general.
In June, 2009, Congressmen Jim Moran (D-VA), Lee Terry (R-NE), and Frank Wolf (R-VA) introduced HR 2906, the Comprehensive Problem Gambling Act, which has 43 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle and allocates $71 million over five years for problem gambling awareness, research, and treatment, among other things. The bill still sits in Committee, but the support for this bill indicates that there are many who believe more research is needed on problem online gambling.
Count Keith Whyte, quoted above, as one with serious academic concerns about the effect of legalizing online poker. In an interview for Poker News Daily, Mr. Whyte indicated that, "When we think about online players, one of the ways I try to break it down is to look at the risk factors for gambling problems: high speed of play, social isolation, use of credit cards, higher limits, and easy access. Those can all be found in the online arena." Thus, he believes that much more research is necessary to determine the true effect on society of legalizing online poker in the U.S. Many supporters of online gambling legislation argue that a regulated gambling industry offers problem gamblers more opportunity to get help. It is hard to get help when the activity you need help with is illegal. However, Mr. Whyte states that there isn’t any research to actually show that regulation would help. It all depends on the regulation.
Sporting groups, such as the National Football League, are also strongly against legalizing online gambling in the U.S. Jeff Miller, a lobbyist for the NFL went so far as to say, "If this were, in fact, legalized, fan interest could be less focused on the outcome of the game than on whether the point spread is covered.” Cynically, you could argue whether that should matter. If fans are most interested in the point spread, then so be it. But Mr. Miller argues that this would hurt the integrity of the game. The same argument is made by lobbying voices for many professional and amateur sports.
Of course, religious groups are also lobbying against legalized online poker. Focus on the Family, a Colorado evangelical group made famous by football player Tim Tebow’s Super Bowl commercial, has a strong lobbying effort against legalizing online gambling. Chad Hills, the group’s gambling expert, argues that online betting is devastating to people prone to addiction. “It is probably the most dangerous, most invasive form of gambling ever developed." It is easy to see how the increased access of online poker can potentially cause problems for people with gambling additions. As Keith Whyte stated, all the risk factors are present.
So although there have been significant progress in the push for officially legalizing and regulating online poker in the U.S., there are still many organizations with legitimate arguments against online poker, and more generally online gambling. As this all plays out, we will keep you informed of new developments.