What every parent should know about the Internet (7) – Internet gambling
Online gambling focuses on making money – a lot of it. While statistics are difficult to obtain since much online gambling is unregulated, one estimate suggests worldwide revenues of $27B (£19B) in 2009, rising to $36B (£24B) by 2012.1
In Europe, online gambling (8 per cent of all gambling) is predicted to generate £11B by 2012. So much money is involved that world governments have been trying to find ways of getting their share – legitimising gambling so as to apply taxation.
Every day some 2 million people deposit additional funds into their online gambling accounts. The US State of Iowa, keen to capitalise 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 even governments seem addicted to gaming revenue, one newspaper going as far as accusing the Canadian government of ‘fuelling the spread of a destructive disease’.3
In the USA, one organisation which ironically calls itself ‘the safe and secure Internet gambling initiative’ claims that taxation from regulated Internet gambling would raise nearly $42 billion, which would help Congress ‘pay for health care reform and other critical programs’!4
While some people gamble out of desperation and others for ‘entertainment’, it is not unreasonable to suggest that people gamble because they have an expectation of winning, however slight.
But the odds of winning are always against the gambler and in favour of the ‘house’. The odds of winning the national lottery, for example, are smoothly passed over by those who run it, as it raises considerable sums of money in a kind of ‘stealth tax’. While lottery advertising claims that ‘someone must win’, an amusing web site (http://webmath.com/lottery.html) shows that the chance of winning is astronomically low!
The likelihood of winning the British ‘jackpot’ lottery is estimated at around 1 in 14 million.5 In contrast, the chance of being struck by lightning is 1 in 2 million; of a woman giving birth to quadruplets 1 in 705,000; to say nothing of the chance of being killed in a car crash – 1 in 5000.6
Professor Tyler Jarvis, chair of the Department of Mathematics at Brigham Young University, Utah, has contributed to academic papers on gambling odds. He writes: ‘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 per cent.
‘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’.7
Almost every form of gambling is available online. From betting on just about any sport, to online casinos, lottery, bingo, blackjack, poker, and so on. Author Mark Balestra, in his book The complete idiot’s guide to online gambling, waxes eloquent about the ‘delights’ 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’ (p. 5).
In a BBC web forum,8 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 realise it. I didn’t realise 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 paper9 on 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’.
In a letter to the US Congress, Focus on the Family10 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,11 ‘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 explains 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’.
Gambling is not only psychologically destructive, but may have a dark, criminal side. Writing in the International journal of criminal justice sciences,12 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 legitimise ill-gotten gains.
‘In the real world, casinos are used to launder dirty money. The same thing can be done by online gambling sites. There are two possibilities: launderer exploits legitimate web-based service or launderer sets up an online gambling company in order to clean money’.
Because many online gambling web sites are based in off-shore financial centres that lack regulatory measures, money is taken from gamblers through legitimate credit cards, and paid as ‘winnings’ from unregulated accounts, also fed into by income from illegitimate activities like crime, drug sales and prostitution. In this way, dirty money is laundered into the system as legitimate winnings.
Gambling can be a difficult area for Christians. Some Christians believe with passion that no form of ‘chance’ should ever be part of the Christian life, whether gambling, lotteries, or even the stock market.
Others take a different view, believing that a little money spent on games of chance is no worse than paying for various 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 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’!
To help us with this issue, the Bible lays down key principles. First, a man should work for a living: ‘If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is tragic to see gambling entered into as a last resort by someone desperate over their finances. But the Christian work ethic is clear. We spend within our means, work for a living, and do not squander money on things like gambling.
Second, greed is the product of a sinful heart (Mark 7:22; Luke 11:39). Gambling encourages greed – wanting more than we have been given by God and, worst of all, without any effort on our part.
Third, addiction to anything is wrong. Our lives are for the glory of God, not to be squandered on other things. Time is a precious commodity, which once gone can never be recovered.
Online gambling sites are geared to addicted users, drawing them in with enticements of winning. With little age verification, the young are particularly vulnerable.
The best practical advice I can offer is ‘Stay away’! Gambling, and in particular online gambling, offers real dangers. It can ruin lives, draw people from legitimate activities, isolate them, and bring despair, financial difficulties and addiction. On top of this, it can have links to organised crime. We must have no part in it.
In an article on Internet pornography (ET, March 2010), we explored the use of accountability web sites such as ‘Covenant eyes’ (http://www.covenanteyes.com). As Basil Howlett explained, ‘this web site … monitor[s] their internet use and send[s] an e-mail report of all web sites visited to an accountability partner – who may be their pastor, an elder, youth leader or relative’.
Finally, block the gambling sites. There are several ways of doing this. Many Internet broadband modems (or routers) offer filters that block gambling sites. Software can also be installed on each computer you use – many of the modern antivirus software now bundle firewalls and filters.
These filters can be password protected, so parents can prevent children from accessing undesirable sites. A word of warning though – there are ways around the password schemes, but they require some significant technical knowledge. However, since teenagers tend to share this knowledge, it is best to keep the family computer in an open area, rather than a bedroom.
You can also configure web browsers to block such sites.13 While all these blocks can be overridden, they do provide a first defence mechanism.
Above all, pray for strength to avoid temptation. Ask yourself if the Lord Jesus would be happy with your Internet activity, if he was sitting next to you? Go further. Pray that the Lord will bless what you are about to engage in. If you cannot, then abstain from it.
3. National Post, 1 November 2008.
7. ‘Gambling: What are the odds?’; www.math.byu.edu/~jarvis/gambling.html
12. Vol. 3, Issue 1, January-June 2008.
13. see www.ehow.com/how_4899306_block-gambling-web sites.html for instructions
Comments of ET readers on this series can be posted on David Clark’s blog (http://parentsandtheinternet.blogspot.com) or sent via email: [email protected] Where possible, posted contributions and emails will be answered anonymously in the final article on this series.