Has the internet made gambling too easy?Oct 30, 2023 11:10AM ● By Arthur Vidro
Internet gambling set a new monthly record last July for the state of New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey—as in Atlantic City.
It used to be you had to go there in person to gamble. Now you can stay home and gamble via the internet.
Some people call this progress. But I have my doubts as to the benefits of internet gambling.
First, it means fewer jobs. Card dealers, croupiers, waiters and waitresses, hotel staff, parking attendants, nearby shopkeepers and countless others have been cut out of the gambling equation.
And it’s bad for the gamblers.
Back when you had to show up in person to gamble, it required effort and usually some expense to get yourself to the casinos. But no more! Now you type your credit card or bank account number into your home computer and gamble away in your bathrobe.
This is a case where our technology has made things so efficient that it is failing us.
I’ve done some gambling myself, but always in person. My wife and I went to Las Vegas for a convention in 2003. While there in the casinos, I won back the plane fare. In the 1980s, a cousin got married in Lake Tahoe. They had casinos too. My winnings covered the hotel stay.
Sometimes I tagged along with my father to a business called Off-Track Betting (OTB). Though private gambling parlors were illegal, OTB was run by the state, letting you bet on horse races throughout the country. The state took a nice chunk of change from the revenue generated.
OTB made it possible for gamblers to bet on races where before they would have to go to the racetrack in person (or to a bookie, whose business was illegal).
One summer weekday at OTB, when I was 13, all the gamblers except my father started shielding their faces. I asked him why they were doing that. He pointed to an ABC television news crew and explained the Eyewitness News team had decided to drop in to do a feature story and film the proceedings.
“But these people are hiding their faces,” I repeated.
“Sure they are,” said my father. “Because they’re not supposed to be here. They told their bosses or wives they’d be somewhere else, and if their picture shows up, they’ll be in trouble.”
“And you?” I asked.
“I’m unemployed and divorced, so I didn’t have to lie,” he replied.
Thanks to internet gambling, we no longer have to shield our faces from the TV cameras at gambling establishments.
In my youth, the National Football League (NFL) commissioner suspended two players indefinitely for having wagered on NFL games. (The suspensions were lifted after one year.) But now the NFL is facilitating internet gambling on pro football games—for a piece of the action, of course.
Nearly 40 years ago, for a criminal justice course in college, I wrote a paper titled “Let’s Decriminalize Gambling.” And so we have.
But now, I fear, the pendulum has swung too far.
Outlawing gambling wouldn’t be legal and wouldn’t work. It would be repeating the mistakes of Prohibition.
No, gambling shouldn’t be illegal. But it shouldn’t be so darned easy.
Arthur Vidro worked for a decade in the stock industry, and he’s been cautious with money ever since a dollar was worth a dollar.
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