Gambling is risking money on a chance outcome. If you are lucky you get back more money than you wagered. If you are unlucky you lose your stake. There are many different forms of gambling. Some are games of pure chance, such as lotteries, roulette or slot machines. Some involve some expertise or knowledge, for example playing card games such as poker or blackjack, or betting on the outcome of a horse-race or football match. But in each case a lot of chance remains and there is a risk that the gambler will lose their money.
Governments around the world have very different laws about gambling. In some cases it is banned completely, although criminal gangs often run illegal gambling. In some places, such as Macao, gambling is a well-known leisure industry with few limits on it. But in most countries governments allow some gambling but place strict rules upon how it operates. Debaters will need to find out what the laws are in their own country.
The rise of online gambling on the internet since the 1990s has made government control much harder. In some countries like the USA (with the exception of New Jersey) , online gambling is against the law . But in many states online gambling is now legal. And companies can set up in any country where online gambling is allowed, and offer a service to internet users all over the world. So gamblers seeking fewer rules, new games, or better odds have gone online in their millions. In the UK alone online gambling is a £2billion industry . Many people who never bet on a race or visited a casino now gamble online. All of this new activity worries campaigners against gambling, as well as governments who feel that their control is being lost. So should online gambling be made illegal?
Note: Although this debate is focused on online gambling not gambling in general this is mostly a stripped down version of ‘This House would ban gambling’. The aim is to make junior versions of our debates that are easy to understand and shorter than the original debate.
Gamblers may win money from time to time, but in the long run, the House always wins. Why should governments allow an activity that helps their citizens lose the money they have worked so hard to earn? The harm is not just the loss of money and possible bankruptcy; it causes depression, insomnia, and other stress related disorders . The internet has made gambling so much easier to do and encouraged lots of new people to place bets so dramatically multiplying the harm.
Every leisure industry attracts a few troubled individuals who take the activity to harmful extremes. For every thousand drinkers there are a few alcoholics. Similarly some sports fans are hooligans. Those who gamble enough to harm themselves would be those who would gamble in casinos if the internet option was not available.
A parent who gambles can quickly lose the money their family depends on for food and rent. It is a common cause of family break-up and homelessness, so governments should get involved to protect innocent children from getting hurt . Each problem gambler harmfully impacts 10-15 other people . The internet makes it easy for gamblers to bet secretly, without even leaving the house, so people become addicted to gambling without their families realising what is going on until too late.
There is no evidence that gambling prevents people from caring for their family. The vast majority who gamble do so responsibly. It isn’t right to ban something that millions of people enjoy just because a few cause problems. And banning gambling, whether online or in the real world will not stop these problems. Sadly, even if it is illegal, people with problems will still find a way to hurt those around them – just look at drugs.
Humans get a buzz from taking a risk and the hope that this time their luck will be in, this is similar to drug addicts . The more people bet, the more they want to bet, so they become hooked on gambling which can wreck their lives. Internet gambling is worse because it is not a social activity. Unlike a casino or race track, you don’t have to go anywhere to do it, which can put a brake on the activity. The websites never shut. There won’t be people around you to talk you out of risky bets. There is nothing to stop you gambling your savings away while drunk.
Unlike drugs, gambling is not physically or metabolically addictive. Most gamblers are not addicts, simply ordinary people who enjoy the excitement of a bet on a sporting event or card game. The large majority of people who gamble online keep to clear limits and stop when they reach them. The few people with a problem with being addicted will still find ways to gamble if gambling is illegal either through a casino, or else still online but in a black market that offers no help and that may use criminal violence to enforce payment.
Human trafficking, forced prostitution and drugs provide $2.1 billion a year for the Mafia but they need some way through which to put this money into circulation. Online gambling is that way in. They put dirty money in and win clean money back . Because it is so international and outside normal laws, it makes criminal cash hard to track. There is a whole array of other crime associated with online gambling; hacking, phishing, extortion, and identity fraud, all of which can occur on a large scale unconstrained by physical proximity . Online gambling also encourages corruption in sport. By allowing huge sums of money to be bet internationally on the outcome of a game or race, it draws in criminals who can try to bribe or threaten sportsmen.
Criminals will always try to exploit any system, but if governments allow legal online gambling they can regulate it. It is in the interest of gambling companies to build trustworthy brands and cooperate with the authorities on stopping any crime. Cheats in several sports have been caught because legal websites reported strange betting patterns. Betfair for example provides the authorities with an early warning system ‘BetMon’ to watch betting patterns.
Gambling is a leisure activity enjoyed by many millions of people. Governments should not tell people what they can do with their own money. Those who don’t like gambling should be free to buy adverts warning people against it, but they should not be able to use the law to impose their own beliefs. Online gambling has got rid of the rules that in the past made it hard to gamble for pleasure and allowed many more ordinary people to enjoy a bet from time to time. It provides the freedom to gamble, whenever and wherever and with whatever method the individual prefers.
People are not free to do whatever they want whenever they want. When their activities harm society it is the government’s role to step in to prevent that harm. Online gambling simply provides the freedom for more people to get into debt, not a freedom that should be encouraged.
Governments can’t actually do anything to enforce a ban on the world wide web. Domestic laws can only stop internet companies using servers and offices in their own country. They cannot stop their citizens going online to gamble using sites based elsewhere. Governments can try to block sites they disapprove of, but new ones will keep springing up and their citizens will find ways around the ban. So practically there is little the government can do to stop people gambling online. Despite it being illegal the American Gambling Association has found that 4% of Americans already engage in online gambling .
Governments have the power to ban online gambling in their own country. Even if citizens could use foreign websites, most will not choose to break the law. When the United States introduced its Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 gambling among those of college-age fell from 5.8% to 1.5% . Blocking the leading websites will also be effective, as it makes it very hard for them to build a trusted brand. And governments can stop their banks handling payments to foreign gambling companies, cutting off their business.
It is where the sites operate, not where they are set up that matters for regulation. It is in gambling sites interest to run a trustworthy, responsible business. Whatever they are looking for online, internet users choose trusted brands that have been around for a while. If a gambling site acts badly, for example by changing its odds unfairly, word will soon get around and no one will want to use it. Regulation will mean that sites will have to verify the age of their users and prevent problem gamblers from accessing their site. When there is regulation consumers will go to the sites that are verified by their government and are providing a legal, safe service .
It is only in the interests of big gambling sites that aim to create a long term business to go along with tough regulation. Online gambling sites can get around government regulations that limit the dangers of betting. Because they can be legally sited anywhere in the world, they can pick countries with no rules to protect customers. In the real world governments can ban bets being taken from children and drunks. They can make sure that the odds are not changed to suit the House. And they can check that people running betting operations don’t have criminal records. In online gambling on the other hand 50% of players believe that internet casino’s cheat .
What is the difference between gambling and playing the stock market? In each case people are putting money at risk in the hope of a particular outcome. Gambling on horse-racing or games involves knowledge and expertise that can improve your chances of success. In the same way, trading in bonds, shares, currency or derivatives is a bet that your understanding of the economy is better than that of other investors. Why should one kind of online risk-taking be legal and the other not?
Gambling is quite different from buying stocks and shares. With the stock market investors are buying a stake in an actual company. This share may rise or fall in value, but so can a house or artwork. In each case there is a real asset that is likely to hold its value in the long term, which isn’t the case with gambling. Company shares and bonds can even produce a regular income through dividend and interest payments. It is true that some forms of financial speculation are more like gambling – for example the derivatives market or short-selling, where the investor does not actually own the asset being traded. But these are not types of investment that ordinary people have much to do with. They are also the kinds of financial activity most to blame for the financial crisis, which suggests we need more government control, not less.
Governments are hypocritical about gambling. They say they don’t like it but they often use it for their own purposes. Sometimes they only allow gambling in certain places in order to boost a local economy. Sometimes they profit themselves by running the only legal gambling business, such as a National Lottery  or public racecourse betting. This is bad for the public who want to gamble. Online gambling firms can break through government control by offering better odds and attractive new games.
Because people will gamble anyway, the best that governments can do is make sure that their people gamble in safe circumstances. This means real world that casinos and other betting places that can easily be monitored.
The examples of government using gambling for their own purposes are really the government turning gambling into a benefit for the country. Physical casinos benefit the economy and encourage investment, and lotteries can be used to raise money for good causes. Online gambling undermines all this, as it can be sited anywhere in the world but can still compete with, and undercut organised national betting operations.