What every parent should know about the Internet
Part 7 - Internet Gambling
by David Clark
Online gambling concerns are focused on making money - a lot of money. While statistics are difficult to find, since much of what happens online is unregulated, one estimate suggests revenues of $27B (£19B) worldwide in 2009 rising to $36B (£24B) by 2012.1 In Europe, online gambling alone (about 8% of all gambling) is predicted to generate £11B by 2012. So much money is involved that governments around the world have been trying to find ways of getting their share, legitimizing gambling so as to apply taxation. Every day some 2 million people deposit additional funds into their online gambling account. The US State of Iowa, keen to capitalize on gambling revenue estimated at $80M (£50M) per year, are planning to set up an online poker site that “would allow them to provide a safe online poker environment for their citizens.”2 Several commentators have noted that governments seem to be addicted to gaming revenue, one newspaper going as far as accusing the Canadian government of “fueling the spread of a destructive disease.”3 In the USA, in the light of the reforms brought about by President Obama, one organization which ironically calls itself ‘the safe and secure Internet gambling initiative’ claims that taxation from regulated Internet gambling would raise nearly $42 billion in new revenue which would help Congress “pay for health care reform and other critical programs!”4 (The image above is from an online gambling site.5 )
While some people gamble out of desperation and others see it as a form of entertainment, it is not unreasonable to suggest that people gamble, whether online or not, because they have an expectation of winning - however slight. But the odds of winning are always against the gambler and in favor of the “house.” The odds of winning at a national lottery are smoothly passed over by those who run these games - often government sponsored - as they raise considerable sums of money in a kind of “stealth tax.” While lottery advertising claims that “someone must win,” an amusing website (http://webmath.com/lottery.html) will quickly show that the chances of winning are astronomically small! The likelihood of wining the British “Jackpot” lottery is estimated at around 1 in 14 million.6 In contrast, the chance of being struck by lightning is 1 in 2 million, of a woman giving birth to quadruplets 1 in 705 thousand, to say nothing of the chance of being killed in a car crash - 1 in 5 thousand.7
Professor Tyler Jarvis, chair of the Department of Mathematics at Brigham Young University in the US State of Utah, has contributed to several academic papers on the odds at gambling. He writes:
Almost everyone has trouble understanding the huge and tiny numbers involved in gambling odds. But learning about these odds has convinced many people that gambling is not the harmless pastime they thought it was. The main thing to understand is that the odds always favor the house. For example, the house's take on a slot machine can be as high as 35%. This means that if you bet ten dollars, you can expect to walk away with only $6.50; if you bet $100, you can expect to keep only $65, and so forth. The more you play, the more you lose. Although some gamblers are ahead temporarily, in the long run the odds will prevail, and the gambler will lose.8
A cornucopia of choice
Almost every form of gambling is available online. From betting on almost any sport, to online casinos, lottery, bingo, blackjack, poker, and so on. Author Mark Balestra, in his book entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Online Gambling waxes eloquent about the delights (as he sees them) of online gambling:
“This is gambling like you’ve never experienced it before. Could you have imagined that hundreds of casinos, several dozen horse racing tracks, and a handful of bingo halls could be folded neatly into a box small enough to be carried in a briefcase? That’s right, casinos, lotteries, sports books, racetracks, and bingo halls from all over the world are at your fingertips 24-hours-a-day” (page 5).
Why do people do it?
In a BBC web forum,9 gamblers past and present speak of the lure of gambling. “Dan” from Peterborough explains that he is a “recovering compulsive gambler” and that “a lot more people have a gambling addiction than actually realize it. I didn't realize I had a gambling problem until it had destroyed my life. I nearly lost my job; I did lose my car; I nearly lost my girlfriend, and my family didn’t really want to talk to me. I was a total waste of space.”
A scholarly paper10 on the impact of Internet gambling warns that “the proliferation of online casinos raises fears that the social harms of gambling will spread exponentially because of easy access and an inability to regulate Internet activity. Among these societal harms are addiction and problem gambling, access by minors, consumer vulnerability to fraud, and criminal activity. Gambling is addictive… Youth are particularly vulnerable to addiction. Unlike brick-and-mortar casinos, Internet gaming sites have no reasonable means of verifying age at the door; therefore, minors have an easier time accessing gambling.”11
In a letter to the US Congress, Focus on the Family12 warned that “the prevalence of gambling addiction is three to four times higher with Internet gambling versus non-Internet gambling. When all factors are considered – 24/7 availability, in-home accessibility, speed of play, secrecy, anonymity, extremely addictive, no real age verification – online gambling represents a highly invasive and reckless form of taxation dependent on human exploitation.”
In a tragic story of addiction to Internet poker,13 “Jane” explains that “even though we only had £20 a week for food, I was spending £100 a day gambling on my credit card while [my husband] was at work. I knew it was wrong to beg him for money whilst spending so much on Internet poker, but I just couldn't stop.” She goes on to explain some of the allure of online gambling: “With Internet gambling, you can just click a button and money is transferred into your account, but the money slips away really quickly… Online anyone can gamble. I know of 15 year-olds who play on their dads' accounts. It's really easy to bet with money you can't see, and you can lose £1,000 in a night.”
The dark side…
Gambling is not only psychologically destructive, but can also have a very dark criminal side. Writing in the International Journal of criminal justice Sciences,14 Wojciech Filipkowski from the Faculty of Law, University of Białystok, Poland says:
“Internet gambling has been identified – by experts in the field of money laundering and tax evasion – as a potentially ideal web-based service to legitimize ill-gotten gains. In the real world casinos are used to launder dirty money. The same thing can be done by on-line gambling sites. There are two possibilities: launderer exploits legitimate web-based service or launderer sets up an on-line gambling company in order to clean money.”
Because many online gambling websites are based in off-shore financial centers which lack regulatory or prudential measures, money is taken from gamblers through legitimate credit cards and paid as “winnings” from unregulated accounts based on income from illegitimate activities such as crime, drug sales or prostitution. In this way, dirty money is laundered into the system as legitimate winnings.
Gambling is a difficult area for many Christians. Some believe with passion that no form of “chance” should ever be part of the Christian life. For some, all forms of chance are deemed inappropriate, whether gambling, lotteries, or even the stock market. Others take a somewhat different view, believing that a little money spent on games of chance is no worse than paying for many forms of entertainment, provided there is no expectation of a return. They see little wrong with the thrill of “taking a chance,” something, it is claimed, that businesses do every day. One should hasten to add that while businesses do indeed take risks, these are usually taken after much consideration and with the expectation of a solid return. This cannot be said of gambling, an activity carefully devised so that the “house never loses”!
The Bible lays down key principles that must be observed:
- A man should work for a living - “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). It is sad to see gambling being the last resort of the desperate - perhaps someone who has gotten into a tricky financial situation. In contrast, the Christian work ethic is clear. We spend within our means, we work for a living, and we do not squander our money on things like gambling.
- Greed is always wrong - it comes from a sinful heart and is a sin (Mark 7:22, Luke 11:39). Gambling encourages greed, wanting more than we have been given by God, and worse of all, without any effort on our part.
- Addiction to anything is wrong. Scripture gives examples of addiction (1 Ti 2:3, Tit 2:3). It is clear that we live in this world but are not part of it. Any addiction is wrong - our lives are lived for the glory of God, not to be squandered. Time is a precious commodity which, once gone, can never be recovered. Online gambling sites are geared to addict users, drawing them in with enticements of winning. This is especially worrisome because of lack of regulation and age verification. The young and the easily swayed are particularly vulnerable.
The best practical advice that I can offer is to stay away! Gambling, and in particular online gambling offers real dangers. Such activities can ruin lives, draw people away from legitimate activities, isolate them, bring despair, financial difficulties, and addiction. On top of it all, because online gambling is so unregulated, money spent and received have been tied to organized crime. All in all, we must have no part in this.
In the article on pornography, we explored the use of accountability websites such as “Covenant Eyes” (http://www.covenanteyes.com). As Basil Howlett from Carey Baptist Church explained, “this website helps a person stay pure online by monitoring their internet use and sending an e-mail report of all websites visited to an accountability partner - who may be their pastor, an elder, youth leader or relative. The idea is that if the user knows the accountability partner will be keeping track of his or her internet usage they will be less likely to visit questionable sites.”
Finally, block the gambling sites. There are several ways of doing this. Many modern internet broadband modems (or routers) offer filters that can block gambling sites. Software can also be installed on each computer you use - many of the modern antivirus software packages now bundle firewalls and filters. These filters can be set up so that they are password-protected. This allows parents to prevent children from accessing these and other undesirable sites. A word of warning here - there are ways around the password schemes, but they require some significant technical knowledge. However, since teenagers tend to share this knowledge, it is always best to keep the family computer in an open area, rather than a bedroom. You can also configure web browsers to block such sites.15
While all these blocks can be overridden, particularly by the adult who knows the password, they provide a first defense mechanism. Above all, pray for strength to avoid temptation. Ask yourself if the Lord Jesus would be happy with your current activity if He were sitting next to you. Go further. Pray that the Lord will bless the activity you are about to engage in. If you are not comfortable doing this, then don’t take part in whatever you were going to do on the Internet.
In the next article, we will consider how the way we get our news and information has changed because of the internet. Is it really the “wild West” out there, where every shade of opinion is represented, or do we now have direct access to the source of information, unfiltered by journalistic bias?
Comments from readers on this series can be posted on David Clark’s blog (http://parentsandtheinternet.blogspot.com) or sent via email to ParentsAndTheInternet@googlemail.com. Where possible, posted contributions and emails will be answered anonymously in the final articles of this series.
Read other articles in David Clark's series on internet information for parents: