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Panelists: Online gambling will need to be regulated

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published October 26. 2012 4:00AM

Westbrook - Members of an Internet gambling panel agreed Thursday that steps must be taken to protect those who engage in the activity, which soon could be legal.

Clearly, prohibition has not worked, Minnesota lottery official Don Feeney told an audience of clinicians, health care providers and gaming experts during the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling's annual event at Water's Edge Resort & Spa.

"That horse has left the barn," he said, referring to the ineffectiveness of the federal government's years-old ban on online gambling.

"There are 500 sites out there where you could place a wager right now," said Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff of the Mohegan Tribe, which owns Mohegan Sun casino. "Your wager would not be protected, though, and there would be no verification of the player's age."

Bunnell said the tribe's position is that Internet gambling should be regulated by the federal government and it should be limited to poker only. He said state-by-state approval could create an untenable "patchwork" of conflicting laws.

"We believe the federal solution is better; it creates more protection for players," he said.

The Mohegans and the Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods Resort Casino, could corner the market on online gambling in Connecticut by virtue of the terms of their gaming compacts with the state. Bunnell said the Mohegans don't expect legalization to create a lucrative new market.

"People have been gambling illegally online for 10-plus years, so we don't think legalizing it will lead to a whole lot more, but if it does, we want to be ready," Bunnell said. Aside from the revenue it could generate, an online gaming site could be useful in marketing the casino, he said.

The conference's keynote speaker, Mark Griffiths, discussed the "psychosocial impacts" of online gambling, a subject he's studied as a professor at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, where online gambling has been legal for years.

Data show the rate of problem gambling, or addiction, is significantly higher among Internet gamblers than among non-Internet gamblers in the U.K. The research also indicates that Internet gamblers are more likely to be male and to be relatively young adults, single, well-educated and have professional/managerial jobs. The number of women gambling online is increasing, and adolescents are gambling on the Internet, too, according to the studies.

Evidence also suggests, Griffiths said, that online problem-gamblers prefer to seek help online. And, he said, the ability to track the behavior of online gamblers provides valuable information for researchers. He said he has determined, for example, that an online gambler who "reloads his wallet" during a gambling session is almost certainly a problem-gambler.

Jeff Beck, clinical coordinator for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, noted that the governor of his state, Chris Christie, vetoed an online gambling bill approved last year by the state legislature. A new bill is pending. The state also is proceeding with plans to issue sports betting licenses to horse racing tracks and Atlantic City casinos, prompting the professional sports leagues and the NCAA to file a lawsuit.

New Jersey has approved gambling on mobile devices at casinos and has authorized off-track betting on horse racing at bars and restaurants.

"Every time gambling expands, we need more money for problem gambling," Beck said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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