Commentary

Steve May: Online gaming needs regulating, not prohibition

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Steve May, who is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) with more than 10 years experience treating people with addiction issues and their families. He current is in solo practice in Burlington.

Bill Sorrell fundamentally misses the point. Within the last few weeks, our attorney general has acted to prohibit Vermonters from playing head to head online fantasy games because they are a game of chance not a game of skill. Games of chance are considered to be a form of gambling. Fan Duel and Draft Kings are, in fact, games of chance and as such do constitute forms of gambling. But there is no deterrence created by outlawing these games in our state. Vermonters are, in fact, more not less likely to take an interest in these online gaming venues because you through legal action have now made them more compelling.

It can’t be that these games are gambling that we find objectionable, after all the State of Vermont continues to support its lottery which also is a form of gambling. Pari-mutuel betting is not so far removed from our collective consciousness here in Vermont, whether one talking about the dogs at Pownal or the horses at any of several county fairs around our state. Rather, the issue must be that Vermont has yet to negotiate a settlement that delivers Vermonters a fee for permitting Vermont resident access to these venues.

It’s time that we address the actual harms caused by betting, increasing treatment resources and programming for pathological gamblers instead of wringing our hands and moralizing about the choices that consenting adults make.

 

I am a clinical social worker specializing in addiction care and mental health. From my experience preclusion of easy access to your drug of choice creates a greater incentive for people who already are of the mind that they are going to engage in certain addictive and compulsive activities. The absence of casinos in Vermont only means that our neighbors will go to Vegas and Connecticut, the Mohawks or Montreal to bet. Banning horse racing here drives bettors to Saratoga or Rockingham.

It’s time that we address the actual harms caused by betting, increasing treatment resources and programming for pathological gamblers instead of wringing our hands and moralizing about the choices that consenting adults make. Vermont should enter into negotiations to establish PILOT payments from online fantasy sports betting platforms like Draft Kings and Fan Duel. These negotiations should become the framework for a 50-state solution, because the action of Bill Sorrell will not preclude determined bettors to evade a court order. They will bet from other locales, or use sites which are even less well regulated and transparent.

Several years ago, the United States lost a case at the World Trade Organization attempting to keep Americans away from betting websites based offshore. We lost then, and as a result of that loss, the federal government was required to open the pathway to gambling via the Internet. In the end this is a matter of settled law, the biggest losers will be the people of our state whom Sorrell claims to be protecting. Regulate online gaming now for all of our sake.

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