Internet gambling addiction is a looming crisis

In her Nov. 28 presentation at Liberty University, First Lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpMelania Trump breaks ground on new White House tennis pavilion Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Buttigieg unveils aggressive plan to lower drug prices | Supreme Court abortion case poses major test for Trump picks | Trump takes heat from right over vaping crackdown Kroger to stop sales of e-cigarettes at stores MORE stated that the opioid epidemic was the “worst drug crisis in American history.”

The Trump administration even appeared to signal that opioids/addictions needed to be treated as a socio-economic security issue because Melania’s trip entourage included Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump says acting Homeland Security chief McAleenan will step down Activists to demonstrate at ICE headquarters after Cameroonian immigrant dies in custody Ex-Citizenship and Immigration Services chief returns to DHS in different role MORE and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Similar to the bipartisan issue of opioid addiction, the looming crisis of internet gambling addiction is now getting renewed attention.

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On Sep. 27, House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Chair James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) held a hearing on internet sports gambling, which he followed with a pointed Nov. 15 letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking what actions DOJ proposes to initiate on the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) have also raised parallel concerns.

Jeopardizing millions of families, internet gambling addiction is currently the fastest growing addiction among kids, high schoolers and college students because of real-time 24/7 sports gambling on cell phones and video games.

Young gamblers are notoriously unaware that most internet gambling is illegal in the United States, as exemplified by the case where a University of Wisconsin honor student lost over $72,000 in tuition money on illegal internet sports gambling, killed three young men in the bookie’s apartment and thereafter committed suicide.

The United Kingdom has legalized more types of electronic gambling than the United States, and therefore, U.K. reports for November are illustrative of anticipated comparable U.S. numbers within the next 2 to 4 years.

The U.K. Gambling Commission reported that 1 in 7 children ages 11 to 16 (U.S. = 2.2 million kids) gamble regularly, which is more than those who have smoked, taken drugs or consumed alcohol — reflected in a 400-percent increase over 2 years in the numbers of kids becoming addicted and problem gamblers.

Via social media, 1 in 6 boys reportedly followed betting brands, and in this age group about 1 million kids (U.S. = 500,00 kids) had explored internet gambling via smartphone apps and video-game “loot boxes.”

Among the European Union, the almost universal trend of countries is to declare loot boxes illegal, but comparable U.S. safeguards have been legislatively paralyzed by the gambling industry.

As implied in Sensenbrenner’s DOJ letter, the gambling industry has used its legal clout in recent years to negate congressional legislative safeguards on gambling, and U.S. kids will be victimized.

First, the DOJ decided administratively not to enforce the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Second, a dubious 2011 DOJ memorandum “reinterpreted” U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s 1961 Wire Act, which was passed to fight organized crime.

Third, the gambling industry got the U.S. Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) neutered by the U.S. Supreme Court via a 10th Amendment argument in Murphy v. NCAA, 584 U.S. (2018).

For two decades, the congressional bipartisan U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission, as well as the U.S. medical and psychological communities, have delimited electronic sports gambling as the “crack-cocaine” for addicting new gamblers — particularly kids.

The commission also concluded that internet gambling was impossible to regulate and could only be “prohibited." While opioids and illegal drugs may be found on street corners, illegal internet gambling will soon be available everywhere — via in-your-face, real-time gambling on every cell phone and video game.

In the U.K., 8 percent of the 2018 advertising market is gambling advertising, which is seven times more than Proctor and Gamble spends.

Despite seven U.S. state attorneys general initiating legal actions against illegal daily fantasy sports in 2015, a couple of DFS operators together were the largest U.S. advertisers for 2015. 

Without new U.S. safeguards, millions of American and international kids will continue to be targeted by the gambling industry and will become gambling addicts, creating enormous social and economic costs. A bipartisan Congress needs to act quickly to eliminate the surging specter of 24/7 sports gambling.

John Kindt is professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, teaching law and economics. He is senior editor of the multi-volume United States-International Gaming Report.