Doing It Right the First Time

Like everything else legalizing internet gambling has its pros and cons. Giving people 24 hour access to a casino comes with great responsibility and making sure everyone has a safe, responsible gaming experience should be of paramount importance for operators and regulators. Internet gaming companies always point out the revenues that their industry can generate for state governments and in many ways this is true. But the state and operators have a responsibility to make sure that all consumer protections are in place before any internet gambling operation can go live.

In the UK and Europe internet gaming has been a success and most operators have behaved responsibly. Most sites have software in place to identify problem gambling and gaming sites offer self-exclusion schemes and allow players to set spending limits. When a gaming company puts profits before responsibility the results can be disastrous. The case of Terrance Watanabe is a good illustration. Watanabe lost most of his personal fortune gambling irresponsibly in Las Vegas. According to the venerable Wall Street Journal Watanabe went on a yearlong gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2009. The unfortunate Watanabe somehow managed to lose $127 million. Watanabe’s losing streak is believed to be the biggest in Las Vegas history.

Steve Wynn barred Watanabe from his casino for compulsive gambling but Harrah’s continued to wine and dine Watanabe who ultimately accounted for 5.6% of Harrah’s gambling revenues that year. Fortunately New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has taken a proactive stance on responsible gaming in the state and irresponsible behavior by operators will not be tolerated in New Jersey. When Christie vetoed the first version of the internet gaming bill he asked for certain modifications which are intended to continue “the tradition in New Jersey of a fine, careful, and well-regulated implementation of gaming.” Once the changes were made Christie signed the legislation.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling expressed his organization’s concerns and told reporters “We are concerned that as jurisdictions race to legalize Internet gambling, often in an attempt to boost their gaming tax revenues, they are neglecting serious problem gambling concerns. Without comprehensive responsible gaming policies, the massive expansion of Internet and social gaming may exacerbate gambling addiction. Our IRG (Internet Responsible Gaming) standards incorporate best practices from around the world, and we strongly urge they be incorporated into online gaming legislation and regulation.”

New Jersey officials appear to be taking a cautious route when it comes to internet gaming. Several Atlantic City casinos have partnered with European companies will extensive experience in a highly regulated internet gaming environment. In the UK internet gambling produces billions in revenues and internet bingo is the fastest growing sector. There is a right way and a wrong way to do business and most European companies are well versed in doing things the right way.