Gambling

GAMBLING IS here to stay. Well, we knew that, but it is now officially confirmed by a report published tomorrow in the US. This is a two-year study on the social and economic effects of the growth of gambling, by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

Given that the members of the panel were so divided, between full-blooded champions of gambling and fundamentalist opponents, it is perhaps an achievement that it produced a report at all. Its recommendations may be bland, but the anti-gambling forces have received a pretty good lesson on what gambling can contribute to society. In Las Vegas, for example, the unions and work- force made it abundantly clear how much they relied on gambling for their livelihood.

"It is clear that the American people want legalised gambling and it has already sunk deep economic and other roots in many communities," the report says. The report does not recommend new taxation on gambling, as was once feared. Instead, it calls for states to impose a pause in the expansion of gambling. It also recommends, as was expected, a prohibition on all forms of Internet gambling. This is indeed a hugely expanding sector, outside federal or state control. But since gambling on Internet casinos works through private individuals operating their computers at home, it is hard to see how it can be brought under official jurisdiction, desirable as that might be.

It is doubtful whether any of the commission's list of recommendations, such as a ban on college sports wagering (to prevent game-fixing) or tight restrictions on political contributions by casino companies (to prevent bias) will ever pass into law. The same problem arises, on a smaller scale, in Britain. The Gaming Board is willing to modernise the outdated practices of the Gaming Act of 1968. But it is hard to secure parliamentary time for reform. This is the trouble with gambling. Everyone involved talks a good game, prohibiting this and recommending that, but no one stands up for gamblers' rights.

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