Dan Mullin, pictured at left, is a recent college graduate who just started an entry level job at a securities firm he'd rather not name. It's not that he's shy. Dan's just not sure his company would approve of his habit -- gambling online between fifteen and twenty hours a week. With a little skill and a whole lot of luck, Dan claims he's earned more than two thousand dollars in the last couple of months.
While Dan's winning streak may be uncommon, his habit is not. There are at least seven hundred sites Online offering all the games you'd expect to see at a casino. And even without smoky rooms and flashy entertainers, gambling on the Internet is big business. With a computer and a credit card, gamblers can ante up and play any of a hundred games.
"I think that more and more Americans are finding it attractive to bet online. Perhaps it's because of the increasing acceptance of gambling in the United States," says Joseph Kelly, Professor of Business Law at the State University of New York, Buffalo, and consultant for the gaming industry. Gambling on the Internet is now a $2 billion business, and current estimates are that it's doubling every few years. Professor Kelly estimates that online gambling will soon develop into a $10 billion industry.
Despite its apparent acceptance, online gambling is on shaky legal ground. Wagering using phone wires is prohibited under a decades-old U.S. law. That's why most Sites are based off-shore, in places like Antigua, leaving bettors to fend for themselves in a wild, wild West environment. "As a result of all this unregulated activity, the gambler really isn't protected. But that may change," says Professor Kelly.
Not everyone believes it's in the public's best interest to regulate this cyber-vice. Daniel Nestel, Senior Assistant Director for Federal Relations, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) says, "We feel that Internet gambling is really the crack cocaine, as one researcher has said, of the gambling industry, and one that is not one we will ever feel comfortable being regulated." According to Nestel, "The Internet is being used to circumvent national and state laws. We need to update those laws to address the Internet gambling phenomenon."
Already the Senate has passed a bill designed to prohibit online gambling. A House version failed this summer, but lawmakers are going to try it again in the fall. And several states have already banned it entirely. Some industry analysts, however, believe the question is not whether online gambling should be stopped, it's whether it can be stopped at all. When asked this question, Professor Kelly responded, "Can it be prohibited successfully? I think only if we are willing to use drastic measures such as cutting off the left hand of every 10th bettor."
Meanwhile, Dan Mullin doesn't think the government needs to protect him from what he considers a harmless hobby. "If the government were to make a law to prohibit gambling online, I wouldn't say I'd be mad, but I'd be a little frustrated with it because I think it's a right that I should have." In the end, the very foundations of the Internet will become the focus of this debate. Who owns it, who controls it, and who can regulate what everyone does online in an increasingly vast new territory with few boundaries and no borders?