Law

Published: September 15th, 2005

From what I read, gambling addiction is not a cheap date. What I’ve seen in Las Vegas confirms this. If billion-dollar hotels can be paid off in a few years using just the house part of the cash flow, there has to be a lot of money in this picture.

In future, fewer hotels might be needed as their patrons can telecommute. Internet gambling is a big deal, and getting bigger, in spite of efforts to quash it. Gambling proponents say no federal law specifically prohibits Internet gambling. The U.S. Department of Justice says the 1961 Wire Act applies to the Internet and online gambling should be outlawed.

The U.S. is battling with a minuscule Caribbean nation over Internet gambling. Antigua and Barbuda decided to invest in Internet casinos to augment its tourist trade and the U.S. government tried to ban U.S. residents from the gambling and betting services. Antigua and Barbuda won its appeal with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the U.S. has been given until next April to mend its ways.

The WTO basically said the U.S. could not block its residents from online services that are legal in the service provider’s country. There are exceptions, but Internet gambling is not one of them.

The ruling establishes that the U.S. cannot unilaterally control how people use the Internet, even U.S. residents from within the U.S. This certainly isn’t going to go over too well with those in Congress or others who think the U.S. should own the Internet because they built it.

In this case, the U.S. told the WTO that the country would comply with the organization’s ruling, but would not “ask Congress to weaken U.S. restrictions on Internet gambling.”

This seems a tricky balance to me. It’s not just the WTO telling the U.S. it cannot control the Net by itself. A final report by the United Nations on Internet governance does the same. And this report will go to the World Summit on the Information Society later this year, which is likely to agree.

Disclaimer: There are multiple groups at Harvard that deeply ponder Internet governance issues, but the above observation is the author’s own.

QuickLink: 050595

–Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University’s University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@sobco.com.

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