Internet Cafes Spark Debate in Illinois

The Christian Science Monitor has never been fond of internet gambling or gambling in general. In a recent article the newspaper said that internet gambling “allows easier, more anonymous accessibility to wagering than do casinos or lotteries. With the click of the mouse, a teenager at home could become a gambling addict, despite any promised safeguards.” The statement is one sided and does not reflect reality. In regulated markets there are technologies in place to prevent underage gambling and most operators use software to identify problem gamblers. Most gaming sites offer self exclusion and players can also limit the amount they can spend weekly or monthly.

States have taken steps to control gambling. In most states tribal casinos are regulated. In Illinois players go to internet cafes that in no way resemble typical casinos. They are usually brightly lit unlike most casinos and some players describe the atmosphere as ‘cozy.’ Usually the cafes offer coffee and wine as refreshments, Unlike other states the cafes have been welcomed in Illinois because they unobtrusive and do not have the negative impact of large casinos. Internet cafes have been especially appealing to women who avoid bard but want to have some fun.

Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, told reporters from the Chicago Tribune “They tell themselves they’re just popping down to get a scone or see a friend or get some time away from the kids, but what they’re really doing is engaging in the same kinds of activities as they would at a casino.” Anita Bedell, head of the Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems, said that many women want to avoid pubs and bars. Bedell talked about internet cafes and told reporters “But these are labeled as country kitchens or upscale Starbucks, and that’s why they’re getting approved. They’re coming into neighborhoods, by shopping malls and schools, and it’s making gambling too accessible in communities.”

In Florida a scandal involving several internet cafes resulted in a statewide ban on the cafes and the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor. Many café players went back to bingo halls and some switched to internet bingo. In Ohio the Attorney General has closed most internet cafes in the state. In 2011 Harvard Medical School researchers Howard Shaffer and Ryan Martin published an article that addressed problem gambling and said “the rate of pathological gambling has remained relatively stable during the past 35 years despite an unprecedented increase in opportunities and access to gambling.”