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Nevada Columnist Discusses Future of Online Gambling


by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
December 9, 2008

                Jane Ann Morrison, an editor with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, featured an article this week that renewed the hope for legalized internet casino gambling. Her column provided an analysis of the recent ’60 Minutes’ segment, and its printed counterpart in the Washington Post, which discussed the Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker cheating scandals.

                In the piece, Morrison says that she believes both the CBS news program and the widely read newspaper will improve the odds of passing Congressman Barney Frank’s proposal to legalize and regulate online gambling in that they bring much needed attention to the industry. She is not the only person who supports this idea, apparently, as she has said that Bo Bernhard, director of gambling at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, agrees with her.

                Morrison feels that because the news stories focused on the fraudulent activity within the cardrooms, it has heightened the demand for regulation and security of internet gambling – and to tax the revenue.

                “The heart of the Washington Post story was that poker players were cheated out of more than $20 million over four years through scams uncovered at AbsolutePoker.com and UltimateBet.com, two online poker sites. The Washington Post’s two-part report ran Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in the Review-Journal, and the “60 Minutes” segment aired Nov. 30,” Morrison wrote, as she explained that Frank’s bill would overturn the UIGEA, except in the case for online sportsbetting, due to pressure from the NCAA.

                Morrison also notes how the online casino industry may look more appealing to upcoming administration because of the tax revenue that it could provide, in times of economic crisis.

                Bernhard told Morrison that he worried about the effects a regulated online casino industry could have on the nation. “I’m torn. I believe in my Nevada soul that a gaming industry that’s regulated properly, licensed, subject to rigors, is a good thing,” said Bernhard, who headed the first research project to study internet gambling in Nevada. “But I’m also sensitive to the problem gambler and the underage gambler.”

                In the article, Morrison poses the rhetorical, why would Nevada residents have any desire to play online poker, with the state having the densest concentration of casino in the country. “The same reasons folks in other states without casinos gravitate toward online poker: convenience, lower stakes and speed. Apparently this is a young man’s form of recreation, and a young man with more education and more money.”

                Bernhard’s study showed that 3.7 percent of Nevada residents played online poker in the last five years, the same percentage are the rest of the country. According to a surveyed group of 1,000 persons, the biggest concern among Nevada gamblers is that they are unsure if they are “getting a square deal with online poker.”

                The study shows that players are unconcerned about cheating from the gambling websites themselves, as they trust they sites but not the other players.

                “They were definitely convinced that collusion took place among other gamblers at virtual poker tables,” the study read.

                "The sympathetic approach of the Washington Post and "60 Minutes" makes it seem like it's practically the government's job to protect poker players," Morrison concludes. "But in reality, the casino companies are coming around to the belief that if they can make money through online betting without spending billions to build a property, it may be time to drop their opposition. And if it's taxable, that's bound to get government support.
 
"But the question remains, if the software is so vulnerable that players were cheated of more than $20 million, can government regulation really protect the online bettor?"