Internet gambling: virtue or vice?

point counterpoint

There’s a storm brewing in the gambling world that could make the poker craze look like a blip on the Internet radar.

Internet sports gambling has seen a significant peak in interest in the past year, aided by an increase in the number of betting sites based off-shore, as well as high-profile movies like Two for the Money. An industry that was previously based primarily in Las Vegas and the “offices” of local shady characters has now gone mainstream, with the advent of credit-based Internet sports books allowing gamblers to bet just like at a Vegas sports book.

Why are North Americans able to bet on sports legally on the Internet but not with their local bookie? This is exactly the crux of the dilemma U.S. and Canadian governments are facing. As discussed on 60 Minutes this past Sunday, every one of these Internet sports books is based in the Caribbean and is not subject to North American laws. However, since it is illegal for North Americans to gamble on sports (except with Canadian-government-run Pro-Line), it is in the government’s court whether to pursue this issue aggressively or not.

Now is the time for the government to nip this issue in the bud before it grows like the poker craze. There are few things more destructive to society than when gambling becomes mainstream, as antisocial behaviour and wanton spending become the norm. For males especially, it becomes a demonstration of “manliness,” be it bluffing someone out of a pot or picking the entire Sunday’s slate of NFL games correctly. I laugh every time I hear someone brag about their huge sums won playing poker or Pro-Line. While some may be telling the truth, it is impossible for all of these chumps to be making money. Someone is losing.

Internet sports gambling, in particular, can be dangerous, as many of the sites offering advice to eager betters are often less trustworthy than advertised. These individuals are known as sports handicappers, and as depicted in Two for the Money, they make picks on games and sell that advice to consumers. Many of these supposed professionals, however, are not subject to regulation, and make outrageous claims about their abilities to unsuspecting customers.

The dangers of sports gambling go well beyond the average Joe making weekly bets. Gambling resulted in the forfeiture of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox and point-shaving scandals at American universities.

Betting on sports is just a mouse click away, and unless the U.S. and Canadian governments begin stricter enforcement of gambling laws, it will spiral out of control.

--Mario Elia

Aside from my avowed love of Pro-Line, one day of digging was all it took to convince me that gambling on sports really isn’t that bad. In fact, the potential good it could serve far outweighs its risks. Although my initial research was focused on reading segments of a book written by someone named Pete Rose—who bet on his own sport and was banned for life for it—I did eventually stumble upon some reliable sources that allowed me to confidently say that sports gambling can be great under the right constraints.

If people want to gamble, they will gamble. Betting on sports cannot be stopped, regardless of law enforcement. Full legalization and government control of betting would eliminate the clientele for foreign companies that siphon money from poorly informed customers by misrepresenting odds and providing false insider information.

Why place a bet with some con artist claiming to be a sports historian living in the Caribbean when you can place it at the Becker’s across the street? Government-regulated gaming institutions such as Pro-Line and legalized gambling in cities like Las Vegas bring in enormous revenue, with individual sports teams and television networks benefiting from similar monetary gains.

Now, to all the skeptics crying about the addictive nature of gambling, well, you’re probably right. The uncertainty of gambling and the anticipation of a huge payoff have shown to increase levels of dopamine in the brain. For anyone unfamiliar with dopamine, this little substance is the same agent that stimulates the brain when cocaine is ingested. So it turns out gambling could be addictive, but does this mean it should be illegal?

The majority of Canada’s population over the age of 19 drinks responsibly, while a minority group drinks uncontrollably. Alcohol has been legal for about 75 years in most provinces, and we know the consequences of counter-ideologies like prohibition and how much worse they turned out to be. Let’s face it. Although gambling definitely has its risks, its legalization could benefit domestic business and government institutions.

Sports gambling, if properly regulated, could become an ideal way of easing the burden of taxpayers. Our thirst for alcohol and tobacco is already exploited by big businesses and government for a huge cash grab, so why not extend this enterprise to include sports gambling? My brain is searching for more to say, but fortunately for you its chemical dependence on Pro-Line is kicking in. I’d better get started on tomorrow’s card.

--Mike Warfe

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