August 14th, 2011
Starved Budgets Inspire New Look at Web Gambling
The New York Times
The District of Columbia is not thrilled that its residents are traveling to Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia to gamble in casinos. Starved for cash, like states across the country, the district wants some of the millions in revenue that gambling generates each year.
So district officials want residents to gamble closer to home — inside their homes, actually. Or in cafes, restaurants and bars. By year’s end the district hopes to introduce an Internet gambling hub that would allow Washington residents to play blackjack, poker and other casino-style games.
“They can do it from Starbucks, a restaurant, bar or hotel, or from a private residence,” said Buddy Roogow, executive director of the D.C. Lottery, who expects the new games to eventually raise $9 million a year. “That’s real money in D.C.”
It’s an idea gaining currency around the country: virtual gambling as part of the antidote to local budget woes. The District of Columbia is the first to legalize it, while Iowa is studying it, and bills are pending in places like California and Massachusetts.
But the states may run into trouble with the Justice Department, which has been cracking down on all forms of Internet gambling. And their efforts have given rise to critics who say legalized online gambling will promote addictive wagering and lead to personal debt troubles.
The states say they will put safeguards in place to deal with the potential social ills. And they say they need the money from online play, which will supplement the taxes they already receive from gambling at horse tracks, poker houses and brick-and-mortar casinos.
“States had looked at this haphazardly and not very energetically until the Great Recession hit, but now they’re desperate for money,” said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School, where he specializes in gambling issues.
When it comes to taxing gambling, he said, “the thing they have left is the Internet.”