It is interesting to note how different cultures view gambling, particularly in a data-driven world that has taking casino games out of land-based establishments and put them on worldwide computer networks. The rise of online gambling has created quite a stir. Some see it as a legitimate hobby and nothing to worry about. Others view online gambling as an existential threat to humanity. Where do you stand?
The debate over online gambling would be humorous if not for the fact that it is a political and legal hot potato. Take China, for example. Almost all gambling is illegal in China except for a few sanctioned casinos in the territory of Macau. You can get arrested for promoting online gambling there. You can get arrested for playing.
The flip side of that coin is the UK. There, you can gamble to your heart’s content. Gamblers have access to online casinos, urban betting shops, sports betting, card games, slot machines, and on and on. They are as open to gambling as China is closed to it.
Historical Opposition to Gambling
The debate over gambling’s legitimacy is rooted in historical perceptions. In many countries, gambling is considered a vice. That makes it morally unacceptable. But what many believe to be arcane morals are still practised today. For example, gambling is illegal in many Middle Eastern countries because it is considered immoral.
The US is generally opposed to gambling as well. Though there are not such strict links to religious beliefs, gambling is still considered a vice in need of tight controls. Thus, land-based gambling in the US is confined to a small number of states along with a few progressive cities that have recently opened the door to casinos operated by Native Americans.
Online Gambling Opportunities
Of course, it is hard to restrict gambling now that it can be done online. A country can outlaw every form of gambling, online and otherwise. But it’s impossible to stop with the right technologies. Anyone willing to take the risk of getting caught can find a way to play the Big Banker Slot Game or sit down for a few rounds of blackjack.
It is fairly easy for regulators to restrict land-based gambling. They can refuse to grant licences to operators wishing to open casinos. They can physically police existing casinos to make sure they are not being frequented by minors. When you have an actual building with gaming machines in it, control is easy to maintain. Not so in the online environment.
You can gamble online even if it is illegal where you live. How? By utilising two technologies: a virtual private network (VPN) and cryptocurrency. If you have those two things, all you need is an online casino that accepts crypto deposits.
A VPN prevents the online casino from tracking your location. You can set your VPN to broadcast any number of countries of origin, making it appear as though you are in a location where online gambling is legal. By depositing cryptocurrency, you eliminate any restrictions your bank might place on gambling. Cryptocurrency works internationally and leaves no paper trail behind.
A Legitimate Hobby
There are those who maintain that online gambling is a legitimate hobby no different from playing bingo or joining a local card game at the betting shop. They make a compelling case. For the purposes of illustration, consider a friendly game of blackjack.
You can walk into any casino in Las Vegas and sit down at a blackjack table. You can spend hours placing your bets and turning the cards. Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. What you are doing is perfectly legal and considered a legitimate hobby. However, you cannot play blackjack online in most US states.
How is playing online a vice when sitting at a live table is not? The only difference between the two is the playing environment. The game is still the same. It follows the same rules and betting strategies. You can win or lose equally in both environments.
Online gambling proponents don’t see any difference between their hobby and betting on the horses. They draw no distinction between going to the bingo hall and playing online bingo on their favourite website. To top it all off, they rightly believe they have the freedom to spend their money in any way they choose.
An Existential Threat
On the other side are those who consider any form of gambling an existential threat. They believe it is such an evil that it cannot be tolerated. Furthermore, they look at online gambling as a gateway to full-blown gambling addiction. While online gambling certainly isn’t an existential threat, critics do make some valid points.
Gambling online allows for privacy. As such, it also eliminates the social pressure of being in a live gambling environment. People prone to gambling addiction might find it easier to feed their habit online because they can do so in the privacy of their own homes.
Access to children is also a legitimate concern. The same technologies that allow you to gamble from locations where it is otherwise illegal make it possible for minors to access online gambling sites. Even know-your-customer (KYC) rules put in place to keep minors away can be easily overcome with technology.
An Activity in Need of Control
A fair assessment of online gambling recognises legitimate points on both sides of the debate. It leads to the unavoidable conclusion that online gambling represents a general activity in need of some form of control. It is like anything else human beings engage in. In and of itself, gambling is just an activity. But left uncontrolled, it can be a damaging activity.
The debate should not be one of gambling’s legitimacy as a hobby. Rather, it should be about how to enjoy the hobby responsibly. Millions of people gamble online without ever developing a problem. They do so safely and without causing financial harm. It is unfortunate that the relatively small number of gamblers who get in trouble cast a pall over the entire industry. Yet they do.
In the end, it is a matter of personal responsibility. If operators and gamblers behave responsibly, regulators don’t have to do much. It is only when things cross the line that regulators have a legitimate need to intervene.