The Smart Money's On Legal Internet Gambling Here Soon

By Tony O'Neill 10/26/11

Legalization of online gambling is on the agenda, although opponents compare its addictive qualities to crack cocaine.

Click the mouse, lose your house? Photo via

It may surprise some to learn that online gambling is still illegal in the US, like hearing that they still have laws against taping songs off the radio, or that New Yorkers can be fined for flirting. But illegal it is—although a proliferation of off-shore online gambling sites let US citizens to play games of chance anyway. But the US retains a stance similar to its long-held position on drugs: fingers in ears, eyes closed. However, if Donald Trump’s betting instincts are correct this may soon change: “It should be approved here,” he recently told the Associated Press. “An awful lot of money is leaving the US that should and could stay in this country.” Trump's moving forward with plans to establish an online betting venture as soon as it’s legalized. “We think we have the hottest brand there is, the Trump brand, my personal brand,” says the failed presidential candidate with the world's most famous comb-over. “We think it’s going to do phenomenally well.”

Not everybody agrees. Back in March, New Jersey’s rotund Republican governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill passed unanimously by both chamber’s of the states legislator that would have legalized online gambling within New Jersey’s borders, taxing and regulating the industry. His nervousness was apparently constitutional in basis but is unlikely to spell the end for the state’s legalization efforts. As New Jersey Republican state Assemblyman John Amodeo put it: "We need to be in the forefront simply because it's going to be the wave of the future. If it went nationally and internationally, we could make a lot." A San Francisco Gate op-ed makes a convincing argument for legalization, highlighting the financial benefits and flagging the dangers created by the current grey market situation: "many of the offshore operators...are poorly regulated and possibly criminal—witness the saga of Full Tilt Poker, a popular gambling site that the Justice Department recently alleged was running a $440 million 'global Ponzi scheme' in which owners dipped into player accounts to enrich themselves.”

Legalization's opponents include Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus, who argues “online players can gamble 24 hours a day from home…Children may play without sufficient age verification. Betting with a credit card can undercut a player's perception of the value of cash, leading to addiction, bankruptcy and crime.” He goes further—actually comparing online betting to crack cocaine—and has even come up with a catchy anti-online gambling slogan: "It's 'click the mouse, lose your house." But not all the opposition comes from good ol' boys on the political right. Gamblers Anonymous doesn’t take an official position on whether online gambling should be legalized, but does state “more and more people are coming into the program and telling us they became addicted online."

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.