Online gambling ban advised to protect minors

California's National Gambling Impact Study Commission will be recommending to Congress that Internet gambling be halted in the US.

Following a two year study into social and economic impacts of gambling, the government-mandated group made a list of recommendations that will be presented to President Clinton, Congress, state governors and American Indian tribal leaders on June 18.

A draft version of the report is released this week at a commission meeting in San Francisco to discuss its contents.

The US gambling industry, including 48 states and the District of Columbia, has grown tenfold since 1975 with around $600bn wagered last year, the commission said. Casinos are authorised in 21 states, and there are 289 casinos on Indian reservations. "Online wagering promises to revolutionize the way Americans gamble because it opens up the possibility of immediate, individual, 24-hour access to the full range of gambling in every home," the report stated.

The commission cited a study by research group Christiansen/Cummings Associates that estimates Internet gambling more than doubled to 14.5 million gamblers in 1998 from 6.9 million people in 1997, with revenue of $651 million in 1998 up from $300 million in 1997.

Because the Internet can be used anonymously, the commission stated that there is a danger underage gamblers will abuse online gambling sites. Pathological gamblers may become easily addicted to online gambling because of the Internet's easy access, privacy and instant results, the commission said. And with anonymity associated with the Internet, online gambling is more susceptible to crime, the commission said.

Although there is a federal law prohibiting gambling using wire communication, the commission said there has been much debate on whether the Internet is included in the statute.

Among the series of recommendations, the commission suggests that all legal gambling be restricted to those over 21 years of age and that each gambling operation -- state lottery, tribal government and gambling organizations -- adopt advertising guidelines that avoid appeals to people vulnerable to gambling such as youths and residents of low-income neighborhoods.

To state and tribal governments, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and other youth and school organizations, the commission recommended that each fund educational and prevention programs against sports gambling.

Signs warning about the risks of gambling and the odds of success should be posted in prominent locations at gambling facilities, the commission suggested.

Each state and tribal government should impose a gambling tax, where a portion of funds will be used to support research on the problems of gambling, prevention, education and treatment programs.

The commission also recommended to the president and Congress that laws concerning American Indian gambling be tightened to ensure fiscal accountability.

Also tribal governments, states and labour organisations should work voluntarily to extend to employees of tribal casinos the same or equivalent protection of workers at federal and state jobs, the commission said.

Tribal governments were recommended to use some of the net revenue from Indian gambling operations as investment funds to further diversify tribal economies and reduce their dependence on gambling.

Automatic teller machines and credit machines shouldn't be easily accessible to gambling operations, the commission said.

It said Congress should direct the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to add gambling components to the National Household Survey on drug abuse.

The commission also recommended Congress direct the National Institute of Justice to research the effects gambling has on property and violent crime.

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