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Online gaming ban doesn’t go far enough

Marketplace Staff Oct 3, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: There’s a small downside for Harrah’s Casinos after the news yesterday of that 15 billion buyout offer. Standard & Poors cut the debt rating for the world’s biggest casino company down to junk status. That’s because it’s a leveraged buyout, which means more debt on the books. Of course, shares have jumped about 14 percent since the offer was announced. So like I said, it’s a small downside for the casino company.

But online gaming can be a big problem for the people doing the gambling. Congress is trying to intervene. This session lawmakers passed a bill that blocks banks and credit card companies from paying online gambling sites. Commentator and professional gambler Lee Aaron Blair says that’s a good first step.

LEE AARON BLAIR: When you’ve spent as much time in casinos as I have, you get let in on a little secret: A lot of gamblers are out of their minds.

You see it especially on the grave shift, when the party dies down. You see it in people’s expressions, in the sorts of mistakes they make that card counters like me know how to catch.

We know gambling’s addictive for some people like alcohol.

And online gambling delivers an even more concentrated form of gambling’s pathological aspects.

In cyberspace, games go much faster. Psychologists tell us there’s a direct correlation between the speed of a game and the likelihood of addiction.

Most addicts gamble to escape reality. They do so alone. The Internet’s perfect for that. The speed, privacy and availability make it ideally suited to cultivating gambling disorders right there at home.

Gambling’s role in our society has undergone a revolution in two decades. Ironically, it’s happened during the rise of the Christian Right.

In the late 1980’s, legal casinos existed only in New Jersey and Nevada. Now they’re in 33 states.

Casinos spread with little debate, so the industry’s kept many secrets. They trumpet a statistic that just 1 percent of the population suffers from gambling disorders.

Most researchers say that figure’s enormously understated.

But whatever the size of this group, its contribution to casino revenue is a mystery. It shouldn’t be.

A study in Alberta attributed 39 percent of casino income there to mentally ill people. We have no figures in the U.S.

Does this industry depend on sick people for a critical share of its income? The industry knows the answer. Especially since in the last decade they’ve started tracking the play of virtually all their customers electronically — low-rolling regulars as well as high rollers.

No new casino should be licensed anywhere until the gambling industry tells us the nature of the business it’s really in.

RYSSDAL: Lee Aaron Blair’s a pseudonym. He prefers his real name not be used so he can keep on making a living.

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