Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling spend a lot of time harping on the lack of safeguards available at online gambling sites. Their argument is essentially, “we can’t trust the Internet to protect us to the same degree that brick & mortar casinos can,” despite there being virtually no evidence to support this.
So let’s take a look at the evidence and see how online safeguards stack up against brick & mortar safeguards.
Brick & mortar safeguards: random, targeted, ID checks
Security at casinos don’t check the ID of every player who attempts to access the casino floor (in fact they check very few), but overall they do a pretty good job of stopping underage players from gaining access to the gaming floor by profiling younger looking patrons along with random checks.
The process is far from perfect (as the numerous fines for underage gambling and drinking attest to) but it does prevent underage gambling with a reasonable amount of certainty –which is really all we can ask for or expect.
Online safeguards: Know Your Customer Check
The signup process for an online poker site is essentially the same as signing up for a credit card or a PayPal account. The information you enter (including a social security number) is checked and verified in the same way a bank or American Express would verify a person’s identity.
Basically, “faking out” an online gambling site is as difficult as faking out Citibank.
Still, there are several scenarios where an underage player could gain access to an online poker site. However, the methods all require the player to use someone else’s account, either through identity theft or collusion.
Verdict: Slight edge to brick & mortar casinos
I would call this a push, with a slight leaning towards brick & mortar.
Much like brick & mortar procedures, online age verification is far from foolproof, but it does require someone to either break the law or be assisted in some way by an of age player, and prevents underage gambling with a reasonable amount of certainty.
The reason I give a slight edge to B&M casinos is due to the fact that casinos have a better chance to correct their initial error — A player evading a security checkpoint and gaining access to a gaming floor could still be asked for their ID by another employee, or on their next visit, whereas, once a minor has access to an online account it’s almost impossible to detect who is using that account.
Brick & mortar safeguards: None, except in the case of large transactions
Identity verification is virtually nonexistent in the brick & mortar gaming industry with the exception of large transactions (wins) which need to be reported for tax purposes, and/or for large wires or money transfers that need to be investigated due to the Bank Secrecy Act.
That being said, most players’ identities are known through a casino’s VIP Rewards Program, although this is not mandatory.
Online safeguards: Know Your Customer Check
Again, players have to go through a very stringent KYC check before sitting down at an online poker table. Unlike a brick & mortar casino, every single player has their real-world information attached to every bet and wager and every deposit and withdrawal they make.
This makes it incredibly difficult to launder money online (despite claims to the contrary), even though the player-to-player relationship is quite anonymous, the player-to-site relationship is completely transparent and leaves a clear paper trail anyone could follow.
Verdict: Blowout victory by online gambling sites
This isn’t even close. When it comes to knowing your customer, brick & mortar casinos cannot hold a stick to online gaming sites. This transparency allows online sites to prevent money laundering and identify problem gamblers through their betting habits.
Brick & mortar safeguards: Self exclusion lists
At casinos any player can choose to add their name to the state’s self-exclusion list, forcing them to abstain from gambling in the casinos under the penalty of having their money confiscated.
It’s a pretty strong deterrent; even if you make it onto the casino floor you’re in danger of having your chips confiscated at any moment. The process is far from ideal though, as a player must, for lack of a better term, admit to being a problem gambler and sign themselves up for the self-exclusion list.
And because of the anonymity of casino betting, the casinos have no real way of identifying problem gamblers other than the self-exclusion list.
Online safeguards: Self exclusion lists, deposit limits
Online sites use the same self-exclusion policy, however, because of the identity verification process (see above) its far easier to keep players on the self-exclusion list from entering the casino — a baseball hat and a pair of sunglasses aren’t going to disguise you online.
Furthermore, with a player’s complete betting history to peruse, online sites can better identify problem gambling behavior. While there is nothing they can do with this information at this point in time, it could be an invaluable research for getting problem gamblers help down the road.
Finally, online sites have smaller stakes available and impose deposit limits on their players.
Verdict: Solid victory by online gambling sites
Both might rely on the same method to prevent problem gamblers from gaining access, but once a person places themselves on a self-exclusion list it’s far more difficult to break that compact with an online site.
Additionally, the lower stakes and deposit limits in place at online sites can be the difference between someone doing something stupid with a month’s worth of wages and someone doing something stupid with their life savings.