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Does the average American know about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act?

20 October 2006

My daily routine for the last three weeks has consisted of reading, writing, and talking about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which was attached to a Safe Ports bill just before Congress went on recess.



Poker Web sites and Internet gambling message boards are jam-packed with criticism of the law and the method by which it passed. This reaction isn't surprising. The people writing those stories and posts have a keen interest in maintaining American access to Internet gambling sites.



This world that I've been living in, however, is rather insular. The American Gaming Association reports that just four percent of Americans have gambled on the Internet. The 96 percent of the population outside this little world may be unaware of the law -- which requires U.S. credit card companies and financial institutions to block transactions to Internet gambling sites -- especially given a busy news cycle in the run-up to mid-term elections.



In an effort to find out what the "other half" thinks, I conducted a completely unscientific questionnaire in Boston's famed Quincy Market. None of the people I talked to were Internet gamblers, and I tried my best to avoid influencing my subjects by introducing myself only as a reporter doing a "man-on-the-street" story.



I asked the following three questions in succession: 1) Have you heard about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act? If so, what do you think of the law? 2) Should Americans be allowed to gamble on the Internet? 3) Should U.S. banks and credit cards block transactions to Internet gambling sites?



The following are reactions from people who had heard about the bill:



Michael Myers, 61, retired lawyer, Smithfield, Va.
"To tell you the truth, I'm getting tired of people telling me what I can and what I can't do. Everybody is trying to police what we do. I don't understand it."



Dan Faires, 47, commercial pilot, Decatur, Texas
"It's a free country. If someone wants to waste their money, that's their business."



Clayton Webb, 33, graduate student, Durham, N.C.
"We're already allowed to gamble in casinos around the country. What's the difference between the Internet and that? It's just forcing it underground and it's not going to solve anything."



Annette Kelly, human resources manager, Calif.
"I don't know how (banks would identify and block transactions to Internet gambling sites). I would have to know a little bit more about how they would have access to your (information) when you were online. I couldn't say one way or the other."



I was surprised that so many people had heard about the legislation. I was more surprised that all those people, including several from "Red States," disagreed with the law ... remember I said this wasn't a scientific study. Most telling was Webb's assertion that there is no difference between gambling online and in a casino.



There were two people, however, who were completely unfamiliar with the law.

Pam Lage, 49, homemaker, Atlanta
"I don't think (Internet gambling) is a good idea, but if people are going to do it, they should be able to do it. I don't think (blocking financial transactions) is a good idea."



John Pearson, 50, assistant chief of police, DeKalb County, Georgia
"Enough people win to keep (gambling) institutions operating, but most of the time the odds are against you and people have the tendency to lose everything they own. People are losing their life savings; they're losing everything because of an addiction to gambling."



Like Pearson, most people in this tiny sample thought that gambling was a bad habit, whether it's on the Internet, in a casino or on the lottery. But unlike Pearson, most of them did not think the U.S. government should require banks to police financial transactions. Webb even called it a "silly law."



Unfortunately, this "silly law" was passed without receiving a debate on the Senate floor. Various media reports suggest Senate Majority Leader Frist (R-Tenn.) attached the bill to a Safe Ports Act to appeal to conservative Christian groups in anticipation of a run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.



In fact, most Senators didn't have a chance to think about the issue as hard as the random strangers I talked to in Quincy Market on Wednesday. Judging by the results of those conversations and Frist's alleged motivations, it's no wonder Frist didn't bring the bill up for debate by the full Senate.







AT OffSuite

Does the average American know about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act? is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.