Should Internet Gambling Be Legalized?

Should Internet Gambling Be Legalized?

July 29, 2010
Originally published in The New York Times: Room for Debate

The question isn’t should gambling online be legalized, but rather, does the federal government have the authority to criminalize the activity? The answer is: no.

There is no federal law that says it is legal to wear red shoes on a Sunday, but that does not make the activity illegal. That’s because criminalizing footwear is not one of the powers given to the government by the Constitution — and we’d think it was absurd if the government tried to prevent adults from voluntarily engaging in behavior that harms nobody. Well, that is what some in Congress have tried to do with online gambling for many years; ban an activity adults freely engage in.

Bans don’t work. More than 70 million Americans gamble each year and nearly 90 percent self-reported that they have gambled once in their lifetime. The activity has been around since recorded history and almost every state has a lottery or casinos. These facts combined with the uncontrollable nature of the Internet make a ban impossible. The result of an attempted ban, as we have seen, is that gamblers go underground. This means that American citizens could not appeal to the government in the case that they are victimized — the actual purpose of government.

Instead of legalizing a limited number of online gambling activities and a few online casinos who can jump through the right hoops, we ought to repeal any kind of gambling ban and make it easier for platforms to comply with existing laws and for players to report earnings. This is the best option, not only for revenue generation, but for consumer protection and individual liberty.