Online gambling is gaining a toehold in the United States, but the phenomenon is so new the financial and social consequences are not yet known.
The state of Nevada, the home to the gambling mecca of Las Vegas, started allowing online poker games earlier this year. But two states on the eastern U.S. seaboard, Delaware and New Jersey, are expanding the online gambling options to include a variety of other games, including blackjack, roulette and slot machines.
The gambling has been limited, through the use of geospatial technology, to wagers placed by people physically within the boundaries of the three states. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has estimated online gambling could yield as much as $180 million annually in new tax revenue for his state, but the gain for Nevada and Delaware is expected to be less than $4 million a year in each state.
Unlike in some other countries, there is no national U.S. lottery, although multi-state lotteries often draw a frenzy of players as jackpots reach several hundred million dollars. Only two of the 50 U.S. states have not authorized any form of gambling, and many states have lotteries and casinos.
U.S. legal authorities two years ago signaled they would not block most forms of Internet wagering, leading to the tentative roll-out in the three states, with other states beginning to consider it. But there has been no national debate about whether widespread Internet gambling should be allowed, and lawmakers in Washington have mostly ignored the issue.
Corporate gambling interests have been generally supportive of the new form of wagering, even though it could limit the number of people who visit casinos. But one prominent casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, has taken the opposite tack, calling on Congress to ban Internet gambling as a danger to society.
He says online gambling could prove tempting to weak-willed people and would be a "societal train wreck waiting to happen."