If it were up to Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, online gambling would never see the light of day in Pennsylvania.
Morganelli penned a lengthy op-ed in the June 15 edition of Lehigh Valley’s Express-Times, discussing several reasons why Pennsylvania online casinos shouldn’t be allowed. Among the reasons: accessibility and lack of fiscal accountability.
The op-ed comes as Pennsylvania considers whether to offer online gambling in a regulated environment.
Accessibility means a spike in addiction?
Because online gambling can be accessed virtually anywhere, Morganelli worries that droves of Pennsylvania residents will get sucked into Internet gamlbing addictions.
Perhaps the most powerful moment in Morganelli’s addiction argument came when he used a local example: Greg Hogan Jr., a sophomore class president at Lehigh University.
On Dec. 9, 2005, Hogan robbed a local bank because, as sources reported, he was facing an online gambling debt of around $7,500.
“It offers folks the opportunity to gamble where they please, including at work and school,” Morganelli said of online gaming. “For addicts, the temptation is sitting right there in their phone, at their computer or at their desk.”
Land-based casinos, at least, force the gambler to get in their car and drive somewhere, he went on to argue.
Of course, the fact that Morganelli had to resort to a case more than a decade old, even as online gambling has become more and more accessible, punches a bit of a hole in the argument.
Lack of monitoring also a problem
Another issue facing online gamblers is a lack of oversight from an objective source. In casinos, dealers and employees of the casinos can respond to players who are “problematic” or are spending too much time at the tables.
Online, however, anyone can play, the attorney said: children, problem gamblers, addictive types and “the mentally impaired.”
At times, the attorney used dramatic language to reinforce his points, calling gambling websites “backroom internet gaming parlors” where players can “use the anonymity and dark corners” of these parlors to “hide from the law.”
Evidence on link between online gambling and addiction is hazy
A 2015 study by Sally M. Gainsbury, a researcher at Australia’s Southern Cross University, reviewed literature on the matter of online gambling and pointed out trends.
According to Gainsbury, “studies that have isolated Internet-only gamblers have found that these gamblers have lower rates of gambling problems than gamblers who only gamble offline and those who use both online and offline modes.”
Gainsbury went on to say that Internet gaming does result in gambling problems for those who gamble online and offline, “which is likely related to their greater overall gambling involvement.”
A 2011 study from Harvard Medical School corroborates Gainsbury’s conclusion. In that study, a pair of researchers concluded that ”a high correlation between a specific type of gambling (e.g., Internet gambling) and problem gambling does not reflect a causal influence, but might mean that devotees of that type of gambling also engage in many forms of gambling.”
Expert: Problem gamblers aren’t the problem
In a 2013 interview with NJ.com, sports psychologist Dr. Patricia Cardner said problem gamblers make up a small portion of the gambling landscape.
Therefore, banning online gambling to prevent those gamblers from further immersion into addiction wouldn’t make sense.
“It doesn’t seem reasonable to ban an activity that the masses seem to be able to enjoy responsibly because a small proportion of the population is unable to do so,” she wrote.