Iowa Examines Legal Online Wagering

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The Iowa Legislature doesn’t meet again until January, but waiting for them will be a report from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. The report examines the feasibility of allowing online gaming in the state.

At issue is whether or not Internet based gambling can be considered an intrastate activity, how it might be regulated to keep it limited to Iowa residents, and the conflicts with current federal rulings. Online gambling is currently prohibited under federal guidelines put out by the Department of Justice, but the legal basis for this rulemaking is part of the dispute. If an activity is held strictly within the borders of a state, the state, and not the feds, have jurisdiction. This is why it is legal to gamble in Nevada.

The drive to provide this “service” comes from gambling interests and the fees they offer state government. And while the report is neutral and doesn’t make any recommendations, another report, generated by the Iowa Department of Public Health, has some predictions that don’t bode well for Iowans:

  • * Certain characteristics of online gambling are attractive to novice gamblers – privacy and anonymity for example.
  • * People with gambling problems are disproportionately represented among online gamblers. The convenience of online gaming provides a constant temptation to those most harmed.
  • * Approximately 13% of adult Iowans have experienced one or more symptoms of problem gambling in the past 12 months – even without state sanctioned internet gambling.
  • * 22% of adult Iowans say they have suffered some consequence from the gambling habits of a loved one.

The Health Department report does admit that no firm prediction can be made about the consequences of online gambling in Iowa – there simply isn’t enough data. However, they do make a case that increasing the availability of gambling opportunities will likely increase the amount of problem gambling.

Problem gambling is distinguished from “pathological gambling,” which is a diagnosed psychological condition. The difference is that with the pathological type, the extreme motivation creates its own set of opportunities – this group is less affected by exposure because their strong compulsion leads them to seek out venues. The problem gambler group, however, is affected by how easy it is to gamble in more of an impulsive and response-to-stimulus way. It is this group where more opportunity means more, and more problematic, gambling.

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