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U.S. Gambling Culture Spreads to Wall Street
In 1995 we saw the emergence of Internet casino games, which include games of chance such as poker, blackjack and roulette, as well as betting on sporting events. In the year 2000, nearly 300 companies worldwide operated nearly 2,000 Internet gambling websites. And in 2005, global online gaming revenue is expected to exceed $10 billion for these operators, while a total of $200 billion is expected to have been wagered.
Widely a topic of intense debate since its inception, online gambling crime has been debated in the US Department of Justice as well as in the halls of the US Congress. But since Internet gambling sites are mostly offshore, US residents are not currently held liable for violating federal law in the absence of such precedent. However, some states may make such practices illegal, going after banking institutions to prevent such transactions, for example, but the individuals have not been prosecuted.
The prevalence of online gambling and the large revenue derived from it, however, has prompted major US brokerage firms to claim their share of the pie. At stake is whether or not the Justice Department will enforce the Wire Act of 1961 in law enforcement and how long it will be before Congress can agree on passing new legislation. which will help strengthen the Wire Act. The main dispute is that the Wire Act was intended exclusively to place bets by telephone with bookmakers for sporting events, and was largely put in place by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in order to discourage the organized crime and the creation of bets. Whether the law now applies to communication between a personal computer and an establishment or casino not located in the United States remains a gray area.
But in an era of industrial globalization, it appears that firms such as Goldman Sachs & Co., Merrill Lynch & Co. and Fidelity Investments are willing to risk the vagueness of the law to make investments on behalf of their clients. through stocks and mutual funds. By funding offshore casinos, the question remains whether they are circumventing the law and making reliable investments for their clients, most of whom have no idea their mutual funds are involved in such ventures. .
It is now common for US companies to invest in foreign companies, even those that may be considered illegal under US federal law, such as manufacturers using sweatshops and child labor or outsourcing activities to countries that do business with other US-sanctioned countries. government. However, the issue of online gambling is perhaps just the latest industry in global commerce in which laws and customs have yet to catch up with it, given the sophistication of the technology involved.
The argument is whether someone who generates a gambling transaction from their living room to a country outside of the US is considered an illegal US transaction and whether or not they can reasonably be monitored beyond US shores. In addition to the Wire Act, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was enacted in 1992, which prohibited all betting on sporting events in all states except those with pre-existing operations in the states of Nevada, Oregon and Delaware. This was followed by the administration of President Clinton as well as the current administration of President Bush, who both indicated that the Wire Act applied to all forms of Internet gambling and was therefore illegal under the applicable law.
Yet the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 2002 interpreted the Wire Act in another way. In Thompson v. MasterCard International and. al., the court upheld a lower court ruling that, under federal law, sports betting conducted on the Internet is illegal, but casino gambling is legal. As such, since the Wire Act was specifically enacted to prevent sports betting, it would appear the court was right, with the gambling industry arguing that banning online gambling would require additional legislation.
And in 2004, the World Trade Organization had its say when the Caribbean island nation of Antigua sued the US government in 2003 in a bid to block US actions to ban online gambling. The WTO has ruled that the US government is violating trade services agreements and that the US could be subject to trade sanctions. But Elliott Spitzer, Attorney General of New York State, through his Internet Office, has opened an investigation against New York-based national banking institutions such as Citibank, NA, Bank of America, NA, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and MBNA America Bank, NA, which process credit card transactions online. The latter as well as Visa and MasterCard have agreed to voluntarily block transactions to online gambling sites in accordance with New York State laws. However, other states must put in place their own mechanisms to prevent such gambling.
While the societal impact of gambling has been the subject of endless debate for decades, from mental health issues to the risk of bankruptcy, the ills of gambling will continue to prey on those most vulnerable. However, the repercussions of online gambling are too new to be realized on a large scale yet. And while we hear more and more about underage children and young adults using credit cards to participate in online games, experts say more research and education needs to be done to warn children and their parents from irresponsible gambling.
But for those who choose not to gamble, the issue of brokerages maintaining mutual funds, unbeknownst to their clients, by investing in offshore betting via the internet, will perhaps spark complaints. unexpected, once consumers become more aware of how their life savings are invested.
Thus, Americans should have the choice to invest in a product that has been deemed illegal by several US administrations. Without clear and decisive law, which does not conflict with cyberspace jurisdiction or global trade policies, such dealings continue unabated.
Until there is legal clarity, however, the online gambling industry will continue to trump any perceived notion of criminality. And since 2005 saw no new legislation proposed by the House of Representatives or the Senate to restrict online gambling, it seems the United States would rather gamble on its own, doing nothing about it, than protect their consumers and those who are most susceptible to its ills. . Rather than fulfilling their responsibilities to protect the interests of the American people and therefore American consumers, the US government and corporate America would rather bet that most won’t care about cashing in either.
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