Opinion: Reversed DOJ Opinion Does Nothing to Protect Kids From Online Gambling

In the physical world of bricks-and-mortar casinos, it’s easy to see a 13-year-old on a casino floor. On the Internet, there are no physical barriers, nothing stopping a child from becoming an addict.

LawbookLast week, ‘The Hill’ published an opinion by John Kindit, who teaches law and economics at the University of Illinois and is the senior editor of the United States International Gaming Report, about how the Department of Justice reversing its opinion on the Federal Wire Act will “help protect kids from dangers of online gambling.”

Kindit begins his article with the notion that the “gambling establishment [is] working to place 24/7 gambling on every cell phone and video game.” This is completely false.

The mobile video game and the Triple AAA video game industry (big budget titles) have adopted gambling-like mechanics in their games (ex. Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot box fiasco), since they see it is as a way to milk their consumers, likely children, and young adults, because there isn’t any regulation against it.

That’s changing fast as states and countries around the world, like Belgium, declaring that loot boxes are gambling and they need to be regulated like gambling (i.e. licensed and 18-21 age limit depending on the country). We support this, but the Wire Act doesn’t relate to that at all since all it does is prevent funds from being transferred across state lines for the purpose of sports betting.

He then goes on to assert that “Until 2011, this DOJ ban had been in place for 50 years,” but what he doesn’t mention is that there were court cases held before 2011’s opinion that determined the law only applies to sports betting.

Here’s an in-depth study by UNLV professor Michelle Minton in 2014 that shows this, since Kindit only likes to only cite opinions instead of facts - more on this later.

Or when he doesn’t cite anything at all, stating: “In concert with the recommendations of the 1999 U.S. National Gambling Impact Study Commission established by Congress, the DOJ’s use of the Wire Act protected the public - and particularly kids - from 24/7 online gambling, including gambling on video games.”

He uses a 20-year-old recommendation to continue to push his false narrative that the DOJ’s use of the Wire Act protected kids from online gambling, especially in video games. What he doesn’t point out is the fact that gambling via loot boxes and other RNG-based rewards have been in video games since the mid-2000s. The Wire Act didn’t stop it then, it didn’t stop it after 2011, and it certainly won’t stop it if the 2019 opinion holds.

He then states: “This 2011 OLC opinion was immediately vilified by the national press as reflecting corrupt influences and conflicts of interest, as detailed by the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor on Dec. 27, 2011.”

When looking at the CSM article, it’s nothing but an opinion (yet again), with this being of note: “And even if states can outsmart tech-savvy teens or out-of-state gamblers, once enough states jump into Internet gambling they will likely be able to work together and create a national scheme for such activity.”

Since 2011, only four states, Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania has yet to launch a gambling site), have legalized online gambling. You’re going to need more than four states to pull off the “national scheme” the CSM article predicted eight years ago.

Kindit goes on to mention several Republicans who’ve raised concerns over the 2011 DOJ opinion. What he doesn’t mention is that a number of members of the Republican Party are in bed with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and took $100 million from him for just the 2018 midterms. They don’t care about the Wire Act, but instead, only care about keeping those checks coming from Adelson, who wants online gambling made illegal solely future proof his land-based casino businesses and further increase his net worth, which is approximately $35 billion currently.

He then cites a story in Newsweek titled “How Washington Opened The Floodgates To Online Poker, Dealing Parents a Bad Hand” where on the cover, a child is playing on his iPad. He isn’t gambling on his iPad but instead is either drawings or waiting for a page to load. Regardless the screen is blank in the picture for the article.

At any rate, in the Newsweek article, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Ut.) says, “In the physical world of bricks-and-mortar casinos, it’s easy to see a 13-year-old on a casino floor. On the Internet, there are no physical barriers, nothing stopping a child from becoming an addict.”

Sure there is: You need to be 21 years old. A child will only gamble online if a parent sets up an account for him or her, which would be highly irresponsible. There are plenty of tools online to keep your child from gambling or preventing him or her from going to sites you, as a parent, don’t want them visiting.

If Kindit really cared about the kids gambling, he would have given his audience those tools. Why? Because he seems to care more about pushing a false narrative rather than helping you prevent your child from gambling online.

Because we care, here’s a link to some free parent control extensions if you’re at all concerned about your child gambling before the legal and responsible age of 21.

Lastly, Kindit suggests that there is a “growing national backlash against online gambling” and that Congress should “propose bipartisan legislation to protect kids from gambling predators, such as reenacting the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) predicated on the ‘Commerce Clause.’”

His first point is an outright lie. There is no backlash of any kind except for the anti-gambling religious groups, who should consider giving up their bingo games and raffles before preaching to anyone about banning gambling.

According to a 2018 Gallup Poll, 69% of Americans agree that gambling is morally acceptable - an all-time high. Granted this is all gambling and not specifically “online” but it’s hard to imagine a huge difference in opinion between the two, and it’s certainly far from a “national backlash.” Quite the opposite, actually.

Additionally, he suggests Congress should use its federal powers to reenact PASPA after the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional in May 2018.

Essentially, Kindit wants to take away a states’ right to decide for themselves about sports betting and effectively kill a newly introduced, booming market solely because of his misguided fears that it could lead to children betting online.

We should, as a nation, establish clear regulations and age limits across the board for online gambling and sports betting as well as educating everyone about the potential dangers and how to do both responsibly.

He appears to want you and your children to stay in the dark when it comes to the truth about gambling, and by the look of it, ban it across the board. That’s a pipe dream, and it’s never going to happen - Sheldon Adelson and his shills in Congress will not win.

Kindit, if you care about the children, then let’s educate them on how to manage money in a responsible way from a young age so they can make calculated decisions as adults rather than pretending it doesn’t exist and wondering why someone developed an addiction later in life.

So, let’s work together to make all gambling - both in-person and online - transparent and inform the public with facts about what is and isn’t, so that we can have it brought to light for everyone to see.