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Opponents to the effort to legalize online gaming in Michigan, currently manifested through House Bill 4926 proposed by Rep. Brandt Iden, argue that allowing controlled, online gaming for adults is a threat to children. These arguments fall flat, but also frequently serve to obscure who stands to gain from sinking the effort. If they succeed in stopping legalization, the only beneficiary will be competing casino interests at the expense of Michiganians.

A column recently published in The Detroit News (“Don’t legalize internet gaming,” April 26) cites a single study from the U.K. as the primary evidence of the dangers online gaming poses to children. It reported that some number of children indicated in a survey that they had recently spent their own money on gambling and that ads for gambling sometimes reached those who are underage. From this, we are to conclude that legalized gambling is a grave threat to young people.

There are two flaws with this argument. First, the U.K. is not the United States. Regulatory and legal systems differ between nations and so their experience is not necessarily indicative of our own. More importantly, the alternative to legal, regulated online gaming is not a complete absence of gambling, but rather a proliferation of illegal sites typically hosted overseas and untouchable by U.S. law.

The failure to account for the increased dangers posed by illicit black markets is why prohibition never solves social problems caused by irresponsible human behavior. While gambling to excess is a problem for some, the vast majority play responsibly and should not be punished for the indiscretions of a few.

Michigan is not the only state weighing these issues. While only a handful of states have thus far legalized online gaming, many more are on their way to doing so. There is a growing recognition that legalization both provides better safeguards against problem gambling and prevents tax revenues from traveling out of state.

There is also a pattern to the opposition in each state, which takes its cues from a front-group funded by billionaire Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Yet notably, no evidence from the other states with legal online gaming exists to justify a moral panic over the welfare of children.

Adelson is not only fighting state-to-state to discourage legalization of the same service he has made a fortune providing, but he and his lobbyists are also trying to get Washington, D.C., to deny states the opportunity to decide what is best for themselves. Despite his efforts, national momentum remains on the side of legalization.

We shouldn’t let our fears be exploited just so one powerful special interest doesn’t have to innovate and adapt an old business model to changing times.

Andrew F. Quinlan, co-founder and president

Center for Freedom and Prosperity

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