You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Online Gambling: Feast or Famine?

4 01 2009

Casinos and gambling facilities have long been a point of contention in American history. Having always walked the fine line between enjoyable pastime and immoral activity, gambling remains a pressing issue in American society with its legality seemingly being altered daily. Furthermore, in keeping pace with most other tangible pastimes of making the transition into the world of cyberspace, online gambling has recently taken the internet by storm. As online casinos yield unheralded profits, opponents of gambling are desperately seeking to ensure that the law keeps pace with the ever-changing nature of gambling.

As per the Federal Wire Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1084 (1994), it is currently illicit to engage in certain types of gambling via the internet. It is illegal for an internet website providing gambling services to be tangibly located in the United States. Subsequently, many mainstream gambling websites have relocated to nations which have legalized online gambling, most notably islands in the Caribbean. Nevertheless, millions of Americans continue to engage in the illicit act of online gambling. This is due to the fact that it is increasingly difficult to monitor online gambling sites to preclude internet users from engaging in such cyberspace activity.

Many opponents of online gambling have asserted that the perils of gambling in general are exacerbated by the efficiency and immediateness of the internet. They have advocated against online gambling due to the fact that one can instantaneously squander large sums of money with relative ease. Although it is certainly true that online gambling makes it easy for one to rapidly lose prodigious quantities of money, this is true for a multitude of online activities which are perfectly legal. Take the stock market for example. There now exit a plethora of websites which afford users the opportunity to buy, trade, and sell stocks and bonds online. Given the ease with which stock values can fluctuate rapidly, as has certainly been the case recently, one can very easily invest his or her assets into what seems like a relatively secure portfolio only to lose a bulk of their value in a brief period of time. Although online stock trades present the same potential hazards as online gambling, very few moral champions have risen to the forefront of outlawing online fiscal trades.

The legality, or lack thereof, of online gambling holds far-reaching implications. Firstly, many view the outlawing of gambling in general as governmental interference in the fundamental rights and liberties of all people. Similarly, many have argued that it is unjust for citizens living in states which have legalized gambling to be precluded form carrying out the same legal activity over the internet. Such governmental regulations have been denounced as infringements of states’ rights by the federal government.

If the government wants to eliminate gambling as an easily accessible means through which people can rapidly squander money, then it must do so for all similar activities. The purchase of lottery tickets online or the transacting of stocks, all holding the same immediate and financial ramifications as online gambling, must also be denounced as potentially devastating activities. Such far-reaching decisions based primarily on moral and ethical standards require uniformity across all aspects of life. If the current legal system wants to eliminate the potentially evil and disastrous ramifications of online gambling, it must first turn its legalistic focus towards the root evil of online gambling and other similar cyberspace activities: the ease and efficiency with which money can instantly be won or lost on the internet.