In many parts of the world, placing a bet is as easy as making a cup of coffee. Citizens of Great Britain and other European companies can wake up, check the sports fixtures for the day through their phone, and place wagers on them if they wish. If they have a little time afterward, they might play a game or two of roulette, or a few spins of the reels on online casinos or their sister sites or mobile slots before they go about the rest of their day. Nobody questions the legality of this. Nobody wonders whether they’re breaking the law.
In the United States of America, things aren’t quite so simple.
The Letter Of The Law
American betting laws came sharply into focus last year, when the Trump administration looked to overturn an Obama-era declaration that in-state online gambling was legal. Attorneys and officials working for Obama looked at the Wire Act of 1961, and decided that it allowed for online betting to take place, so long as that betting activity didn’t cross state lines. In 2018, the Trump administration took the opposite view, and decided that not only did the Wire Act prohibit sports betting, but it also prohibited all forms of online gambling. For companies already offering online gambling facilities, the ruling could have been catastrophic.
Fortunately for those companies, the Supreme Court didn’t side with the President. Their interpretation of the Wire Act was clear – it was intended as a measure to restrict organized crime, and couldn’t be made to apply to gambling. Furthermore, the law was written at a time long before the internet existed. The people who wrote it had no idea that any mass communication tools such as the internet could ever even exist – much less that people could use it to gamble not only over state lines, but across the whole world.
With the ruling overturned, the majority of US states are now looking into how to implement sports betting, and to what extent people should be permitted to participate. Some states have opened their arms wide to the future, and will allow their residents to bet online and in person. Others will only permit bets to be placed in person, at a selected number of venues within the state. There’s still some confusion about what the law does and does not allow. It seems inevitable that new laws – laws which take into account the existence of the world wide web – will have to be drawn up.
Why The Resistance?
Given that America advertises itself as the land of the free, the current restrictions on online gambling are puzzling to outsiders. America positively welcomes gamblers. Las Vegas couldn’t exist without the income that its enormous gambling industry generates. Most large cities have at least one sizeable casino. Gambling isn’t prohibited, so why should online gambling be any different? The answer might lie in the fact that it’s seen as a threat to the status quo.
One of Donald Trump’s major political donors is Sheldon Adelson, who is the head of Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Adelson has been a vocal opponent of online casinos for many years, despite the fact that many of his company’s rivals have embraced the format. Adelson feels that physical casinos – and the jobs of the people who work at them – could be threatened if millions of gamblers turn their backs on brick-and-mortar casinos to gamble online instead.
Whether or not he has a point is unknown. In countries where it’s permitted, there’s no denying that gambling over the internet has become a popular way to engage with the hobby. It started with online casinos, but has since experienced a second boom thanks to mobile casinos and mobile slots websites. The advent of mobile slots means that people no longer have to be sat in front of a computer to place bets. People can play mobile slots from wherever they are in the world, so long as they have an internet connection. That fact, combined with the tendency for mobile slots websites to feature far more slot games than can be contained in a land-based casino, means that people have both greater choice and greater convenience. The fear of Adelson and those like him is that if people can play mobile slots from a cafe, a train, or their own bed, they’ll no longer be inclined to come and play the real thing.
Is Change Coming?
While there isn’t the same level of enthusiasm for online gambling in general as there is for sports betting in the majority of states seeking to implement change, it seems inevitable that once placing sports bets online becomes commonplace, the gambling public will simply expect to be able to pursue other forms of the hobby, too. That likely makes wider acceptance of online gambling in the country an eventual certainty.
Adelson’s opposition to the move on the grounds that jobs might be lost could have an element of truth to it. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the print media industry, because people have started consuming news online instead. Dating agencies have gone out of business because everybody is using Tinder. DVD rental stores – including the once-unsinkable Blockbuster – have gone under because Netflix and Amazon Prime stepped in and stole the market. The internet is a reality. Legislating against it doesn’t make it go away, and all the companies who have attempted to fight that battle have lost.
Once sports betting becomes commonly available – and therefore a common practice – it will likely become the preferred way of placing a wager on the outcome of a sports game in the United States of America. In the process of doing so, it’s logical that it will also increase demand for online poker, online roulette, and online slots. From there, it’s a short jump to mobile slots and mobile casinos, and at that point, America will have joined Europe in the modern era of gambling. For the people and companies who are currently opposed to the idea, it might be time to ask why they’re fighting against the future when they could jump on board and become a part of it.