Never Tell Me the Odds
The LA Times of July 29, 1997 reports that the United States Senate Judiciary Committee is currently considering a measure to restrict Internet gambling access. I am amazed that this needs to be addressed.

The bill in question extends the federal prohibition on gambling by phone or wire to computers and the Internet. It's illegal to make book over the phone, so it should be just as illegal to make book in email. But the bookmakers are not the target of this law, ``online casinos'' are.

Not only are online casinos currently unregulated, they are probably unregulatable. One person can operate such a casino, run crooked games constantly and falsify the records. Unless the government is willing to assign a regulator who is a competent software engineer to monitor each site, fraud will be ridiculously easy. If people must be protected from being foolish enough to gamble under those conditions, it must be outlawed. Other provisions are simply inadequate.

Anyone who would wager at an online casino is either completely ignorant about the Internet and gambling, so guileless it beggars description, or just plain dumb as a post. In fact, if anyone reading this is considering visiting one, let me give you my phone number instead. I would be happy to play the casino game of your choice right over the phone. I don't take credit cards, so you'll have to mail me my winnings.

Anyone who is willing to bet on a game of chance when they don't know the other party, they can't see the apparatus involved, and they don't know that the system is carefully overseen, deserves to lose their money as a common sense penalty. And anyone trying to run such a transparent scam should go broke from lack of suckers.

But, stunningly, Mencken is right again; people will gamble with strangers over the phone.

Fortunately, my government is stepping in to take care of these unfortunates. Let's look at the provisions that the bill proposes to protect them. Fines: anyone placing an bet at an online casino can be fined up to $2500 and sent to jail for six months. How does taking more of their money and jailing them protect these addicts? It's not as if we have a lot of unused prison capacity. To be fair, the bill can also fine the casino up to $20,000 and jail the proprietors for up to four years.

I'm hoping that the bettor penalties tend more toward addiction treatment and scepticism training. If there are people who are taken in by this obvious a dodge, they need education, not a prison record.

As worrisome as my government's response to this is, I am much more distressed by the reaction of David Mills, a Canadian MP. According to the LA Times, he wants to regulate the online casinos not only for ``consumer protection'' but as ``a good revenue stream for the treasury.'' Apparently some in Canada are in favor of a gullibility tax.

This page written and maintained by Ted Faber (
Please mail me any problems with, or comments about this page.
PGP Public Keys