Should online gambling be legalized nationwide?

Left: Cody Crunkilton, a 2015 graduate of the U of M
Right: Luke Plutowski, a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Urbana-Champaign

This is the second in an occasional college debate series hosted by Today’s Question where we invite debate clubs to frame and guide the day’s discussion. Positions taken by the debaters don’t necessarily reflect their views. As always, personal attacks aren’t allowed in this space. The comment thread continues to be open to all. Join in!

For this series, we welcome members of the University of Minnesota debate team to defend or challenge the argument for the nationwide legalization of online gambling.

Defending online gambling is Luke Plutowski, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota and a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He can be followed on Twitter @LukePlutowski.

Legalizing and regulating online gambling would bolster economic activity, provide billions in tax revenue, and give consumers an added degree of freedom over their pocketbooks.

Those opposed to legalization of internet gaming often overlook the fact that millions of Americans regularly engage in gambling, despite its legal status. The federal and state governments allow betting at casinos, poker rooms, racetracks, sportsbooks, and online fantasy sports websites, and actively encourage citizens to play lotteries, scratch offs, and pull tabs. The arbitrary restrictions on certain forms of online gambling do little to prevent people from placing their bets. Moreover, by prohibiting U.S. companies from providing a service that many currently receive from offshore websites, the U.S. government is not only losing out on taxing an industry worth an estimated $30 billion, but it is also forcing people to put their money into insecure, exploitable, and untaxed foreign accounts.

It is not the government’s duty to regulate the moral behavior of American citizens, especially for a victimless activity like gambling. While compulsive gambling is a very serious issue that affects about 0.6% of the U.S. population, the solution to the problem should not be banning gaming for everyone, but rather strict regulation of the industry and more robust state-sponsored addiction services.

Challenging the argument is Cody Crunkilton, a 2015 graduate of the University of Minnesota majoring in Political Science and Spanish.

Legalizing Internet gambling would expand problem gambling and put individual’s livelihoods as well as the economy at risk. The ease of playing from home combined with the high-speed, anonymity, and instant gratification provided by online gambling make the dangers of addiction far greater online than at brick-and-mortar casinos.

The social costs of problem gambling are devastating–divorce, bankruptcy, crime, job loss, embezzlement, and suicide are just a few of the consequences which can result from a gambling addiction. These implications ripple outwards to the broader economy. One study by John Kindt, professor of Business at the University of Illinois and noted gambling expert, found that the costs associated with problem gambling outweigh the revenues by as much as six to one – more than erasing any transient increase in revenue from legalization. Moreover, legal gambling is a form of regressive taxation, with the greatest cost falling upon those who earn less than $10,000 a year.

Banning online gambling hardly impinges upon anyone’s freedom, as conventional gambling remains readily available both in personal settings among friends and at state-sponsored brick-and-mortar casinos. There is no defense of legal online gambling which justifies giving predatory websites free reign to exploit the most vulnerable segments of our population.

Today’s Question: Should online gambling be legalized nationwide?