Global Agenda: 'Faites vos jeux'

Business is great for casinos and professional gamblers - although it depends very much where.

prague casino 88 (photo credit: )
prague casino 88
(photo credit: )
Business is great for casinos and professional gamblers although it depends very much where. The US Gulf Coast, which became a veritable gambling Mecca after Alabama and Mississippi legalized floating casinos, has been clobbered by Hurricane Katrina, which literally blew away the gambling ships and the towns that supported them. But however dramatic the pictures of massive boats carried hundreds of meters inland by the floodwaters, the industry as a whole is in good shape. If you prefer "the real thing", Las Vegas is still booming, and new casinos are opening all around the world. Nevertheless, whatever the attractions of the gambling halls, the one-armed bandits and the ancillary paraphernalia of the industry, the physical gambling world is no longer where it's at. The action is increasingly virtual, as on-line gambling becomes a huge industry in its own right. A series of initial public offerings by companies that have emerged as leaders in this new and fast-growing business have shed a good deal of light onto what had hitherto been a little-known sector. Not surprisingly, it emerges that these successful companies are making hefty profits by providing a convenient arena for gamblers of every wallet-size and nationality. What is perhaps mildly surprising is that so many people are ready to give up the supposed excitement, atmosphere, etc. of the live venues to play on-line from home. Apparently it doesn't matter to them very much, certainly not compared to the convenience factor. Also not surprisingly, a cadre of professional on-line gamblers has already emerged. People who are good at poker, which means calculating odds quickly and taking risks on the basis of those calculations on-line you don't even need a poker face can spend six, eight or 10 hours a day on-line and generate a good income, better than most regular jobs, especially if you enjoy it. Inevitably, though, the vast majority of on-line players lose. Equally inevitably, the firms that run the sites always win, and the more people play the more they rake in. Many people will not be surprised to find Israelis prominent among the founders and owners of several of the leading on-line sites and thus, thanks to the slew of successful flotations on public markets, newly joined the ranks of the seriously wealthy, in the Israeli and even in the UK rankings. Fortunately, despite years of talking about doing so, Israel has not actually legalized gambling, although the idea of having gambling houses in Eilat, whether offshore or onshore, is a perennial item for newspapers stuck for a headline, or politicians stuck for a source of revenue, whether from taxation of the take or income of a shadier sort. However, any idea that Israel doesn't have a gambling problem is plainly ridiculous. There are two deeply entrenched and very lucrative gambling industries in the country. One is the illegal gambling scene, which periodically makes news when the police raid gambling joints or break-up larger crime outfits, for which gambling is part of a larger loan-sharking/ protection/ drug-running operation. The other is the legal, official, state-owned gambling apparatus the various lotteries that advertise incessantly via all the media, urging citizens to buy tickets and scratch cards at booths on street corners throughout the country. It is an established fact, in Israel and elsewhere, that gambling on public lotteries is conducted inversely to socioeconomic status in other words, the poor are the main lottery players. This makes public lotteries a regressive tax, whereby unemployed illiterates subsidize opera houses for the rich and tennis courts for the middle class. It also makes lotteries a sure-fire source of income, as governments around the globe have discovered. The same governments that raid illegal gambling dens shamelessly promote ever more lotteries which makes perfectly good sense from a business perspective: If you have a monopoly and the power to enforce it, it would be stupid not to do so. But the sight of governments enticing poor people to throw their money away is probably more morally repugnant than that of mafioso running illicit gambling dens. Yet the chances of hearing a Knesset member or senior Treasury official making that point are pretty slim; sadder still, the chances that any of our self-styled spiritual leaders, gurus and sages will use their Yom Kippur sermons or any other opportunity to warn their followers to avoid Toto and Lotto, let alone on-line poker, are about the same as drawing a full house.