Internet Gambling: Popular, Inexorable, and (Eventually) Legal

March 8, 1999 • Policy Analysis No. 336

The Internet offers new and better access to something that American consumers demand in spades: gambling. Lawmakers and prohibitionists can neither effectively stop Internet gambling nor justify their attempts to do so. In the long run it will, like so many other forms of gambling, almost certainly become legal. In the short run, however, Internet gambling faces some formidable opponents.

As a market activity devoted to the pursuit of happiness, Internet gambling draws support from neither Democrats nor Republicans. As an upstart competitor to entrenched gambling interests, both public and private, Internet gambling threatens some very powerful lobbies.

Not surprisingly, Congress has been considering bills that would prohibit Internet gambling. But the architecture of the Internet makes prohibition easy to evade and impossible to enforce. As an international network, moreover, the Internet offers instant detours around domestic bans.

Consumer demand and lost tax revenue will create enormous political pressure for legalization, which we should welcome if only for its beneficial policy impacts on network development and its consumer benefits. We should also welcome it for a more basic reason: as the Founders recognized, our rights to peaceably dispose of our property include the right to gamble, online or off.

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