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“You can’t’ eliminate online gambling” – Keith Whyte, Executive Director, National Council on Problem Gambling

At a Massachusetts forum on online gambling in March of 2014, Keith Whyte, the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling stated the obvious: “You can’t eliminate internet gambling risk but you can minimize it.”

The opposition, led by Sheldon Adelson, and seeking a blanket prohibition on most forms of online gambling, would prefer if that remark was stricken from the record and quickly forgotten as it doesn’t fit into their narrative.

One of the principle tenets of Adelson’s argument for online gambling prohibition is the government’s ability to police and shutdown offshore sites – otherwise an online gambling ban does nothing more than embolden black market operators and reduce consumer protections.

Whyte, and virtually anyone with any knowledge of how the Internet works, realizes this is not the case.

The argument goes: “If we legalize online gambling we are putting a casino in the pocket of every American.” The reality is there is already a casino in the pocket of every American, the question is, do we want it to be a safe, regulated casino, or an illegal, offshore casino?


Prohibition has never worked

Following the passage of UIGEA in 2006 dozens of online poker/casino/sportsbook sites remained in the U.S. market. Following Black Friday there are still plenty of black market sites willing to take the risk and operate in the U.S. market. And there are still plenty of black market options for U.S. players to choose from.

Drug laws haven’t stopped illegal drug dealers (which you can also buy online despite its illegality), and enacting laws prohibiting online gambling won’t deter online gambling. If there is money to be made people will take the risk.

The best way to combat the ills of online gambling is to, as Whyte stated, “Minimize the risk.” And this can only be done through regulation.

Regulations that increase consumer protections and help fund problem gambling programs.


Regulations enforce problem gambling protocols

Click on any black market online poker site and see if there are any messages about problem gambling help lines or safeguards in place to actually verify your identity.

Now, click on one of the legal online poker sites in New Jersey, Nevada, or Delaware and let me know what you see. Not only will you find problem gambling information (real information on seeking help and not some generic message about installing netnanny if you have kids) and very stringent verification systems, you’ll also notice that every single advertisement from billboards to Internet banner ads must contain the problem gambling helpline number.

Mess up and you get busted, as Caesars learned when they were fined for not legibly adding the problem gambling help line phone number in some of their early advertising, and later for e-mailing promotional material to players on the self-exclusion list.

The legalization and subsequent regulation of online poker in  New Jersey has insured that problem gambling protocols and monitoring are as strict, or even stricter, than they are in live casinos.


Easier to self exclude

Self-exclusion procedures has also been simplified, as online players can now self-exclude without registering an account can do so in one of two places, on the DGE website, or at Players can also self-exclude in-person at a land-based casino in Atlantic City.

“The Division of Gaming Enforcement has one of the most comprehensive responsible gaming programs in the country,” said Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck said in a statement detailing the new policy. “We strive to be innovative and remain at the forefront of Internet gaming regulation while giving individuals options to play online responsibly, or opt out if that is the right choice for them.”

Another law passed in 2014 (AB 2444) allows players to self-exclude without having to admit to being a problem gambler, a move designed to remove some of the stigma associated with placing yourself on the self-exclusion list.


Better Detection

At a hearing in front of the Pennsylvania Assembly’s Democratic Policy Committee in May of 2014, Keith Whyte probably turned some heads when he declared his group “neutral” towards online gambling expansion before diving into his prepared remarks that most in attendance would probably conclude lean toward being pro-online gambling.

Whyte’s statement included him saying online gaming provided better detection and solutions than brick & mortar gaming.

Why would Whyte make such a claim?

Online gaming allows the casino to track every single bet and wager a player makes. Every session, every win and loss can be accessed in a moment’s notice. In land-based casinos players do not have to divulge their identity, and even if they do (by signing up for the casino’s VIP Program and presenting their card when they sit at a table or slot machine) their bets are tracked by casino staff who have to eyeball their typical wager.

In a brick & mortar casino a player could sit at a $10 Blackjack table and place $20 bets for 30 minutes and then, unbeknownst to the casino, bet $500 on his last two hands. The casino would track this player as someone who averages $20 wagers,  not realizing he shot-off $1,000 in two hands.

Online this strange betting pattern would be noticed, and if it became habit would raise problem gambling alarm bells.


Better funding

The argument by the anti-online gambling side is that increased access to gambling will lead to more problem and underage gamblers. Whyte’s comments, andrecent research indicate the opposite might be true.

Whyte is open to expanded online gambling, with a caveat: He wants part of the revenue from the industry to fund problem gambling initiatives.

New Jersey did just that, imposing a $150,000 yearly stipend online gaming operators that goes directly to fund problem gambling programs, which includes amulti-year research project to be carried out by Rutgers University that will draw heavily on data generated from New Jersey’s online gaming providers, as well as population surveys.

As he said in Massachusetts, “you can’t eliminate online gambling,” so provided you earmark some of the funds generated for problem gambling initiatives, legalizing online gambling will benefit problem gambling initiatives by providing better funding and as mentioned above, better detection and research data.

Steve Ruddock

Steve is veteran of the the poker industry, first as a player and now as a writer focusing mainly on the regulated U.S. markets and the politics of poker. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRuddock and at Google+.