Just Plain Wrong: Boston Globe Misses The Mark In Anti-Online Gambling Editorial

April 3, 2017

The Boston Globe isn’t a fan of online gambling based on an editorial that appeared in its pages last Sunday

Anti-online gambling editorials aren’t uncommon, and the threads the Globe team picks at are the usual targets. But because of the paper’s reputation and reach, I feel it’s important to refute some of the claims hurled at online gambling by the editorial staff at the venerable paper.

The editorial makes three main claims:

  • Legalizing online gambling would be introducing a new form of gambling.
  • Online gambling as an industry provides no ancillary benefits.
  • Online gambling is designed to “hook” young people on gambling and represents a pox on society.

It’s not new if it already exists

There is a strange belief that if we prohibit (or simply don’t legalize) online gambling it will just go away — the ostrich syndrome.

This isn’t the case, as anyone with an internet connection can quickly find an online gambling site willing to accept their wagers. (Said site is likely located in Antigua or some other far-flung locale.)

The goal of legalization and regulation isn’t to expand gambling. It’s to take a current form of gambling out of the shadows and provide much-needed oversight and consumer protections. In the process, this will send a modest amount of revenue to the state.

As I’ve argued in the past, prohibitionists or those who think the status quo is hunky dory are essentially arguing for the continued existence of the unregulated online gambling industry. That is an industry that has seen insider cheating scandals perpetrated and dozens of sites running off with player funds.

The Globe also claims that “the state’s careful efforts to address problem gaming could easily falter in cyberspace, where it’s harder to flag underage or compulsive gamblers.”

This is patently false, but don’t take my word for it. Listen to what the National Council on Problem Gambling has to say on the topic:

“Keith Whyte, the national director of the NCPG has testified on this subject multiple times, and he routinely states that online gambling (in its unregulated form) is, and will likely always be, available. Whyte has even stated that online gambling has better problem gambling detection methods than land-based casinos.”

The value of online gambling

The Globe’s next salvo is calling online gambling a one-trick-pony. It’s just for the gambler and has no other benefits, the Globe argues.

This is somewhat true, but no one is arguing online gambling creates the same number of jobs or level of infrastructure spending as a physical casino. The notion that online gambling has no ancillary benefits is hyperbole.

There are many ancillary benefits:

  • Jobs associated with online gambling
  • Online gambling sites buying advertisements in local markets
  • “Poker tourism”

But most importantly, online gambling has been proven to drive foot traffic to those very same billion-dollar casinos the state is now relying on for revenue, jobs and community spending.

But this misses the larger point. Why can’t regulated online gambling simply be about protecting consumers and generating a modest amount of revenue? Why does it have to be a panacea?

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The so-called expert

The final issue I have with the Globe editorial is the editorial team turning to known firebrand Les Bernal as its expert.

Bernal’s Stop Predatory Gambling group is opposed to all forms of gambling. He may appear to be an expert, but he’s little more than a gaming conspiracy theorist who relies on cherry-picked or misleading evidence to paint a picture of doom and gloom.

Going to Bernal for quotes is even more laughable because the Globe comes out in favor of online lottery sales. (By extension, it is content with the state’s lottery.)

Meanwhile, Bernal lashed out against gambling of any kind at a March 2015 hearing in front of the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations. He became little more than an ignored prop after he started blaming gambling — and state lotteries in particular — for billion-dollar state deficits and the country’s current income inequality gap.

I wonder what Bernal quotes about the Massachusetts Lottery were left on the cutting room floor of the Boston Globe’s editorial office. There are many that would have made him sound like the anti-gambling zealot he is.

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