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March 4, 2013

HAYDEN: Offering casinos incentives a real gamble

Legislators should not ignore the growing online option

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers have been debating whether to give the state’s casinos more financial incentives to compete with the shiny new gambling palaces popping up in Ohio. 

They’re fearful that fickle gamblers will take their dollars — and the millions in tax revenues they generate every year — across the border to one of the four big-city casinos that have opened in the Buckeye State in the last 10 months.

What should worry them more is how easy it is for you to sit at home in your underwear and use your laptop or mobile device to place your bets online.  

Americans gambled away about $4 billion in 2011 using online wagering, according to a recent report by the American Gaming Association. Most of that money was spent through offshore websites, in the nearly 85 countries that have legalized online gambling.

That was the same year the U.S. Department of Justice cracked down on illegal online gambling here in the U.S., with massive criminal and civil charges against the biggest Web-based poker sites. 

No matter. The American Gaming Association’s report, issued late last year, said that crackdown barely made a dent, and that gaming industry experts see online gambling as the wave of the future whether it’s legal or not. 

Consider this, from an association survey of those experts: Nearly 70 percent of them estimate U.S. bettors will annually spend between $8 billion and $11 billion on Internet gambling five years from now. 

Most of the rest think the market will grow more “moderately” — to a size of $6 billion to $7 billion annually over the next five years. And that’s even if Congress doesn’t pass legislation that legalizes and regulates online gaming. 

If Congress opts to regulate online gaming, and even if states like Indiana opt not to follow suit, about one-third of those experts predict Americans will be spending between $14 billion and $17 billion annually in online wagering by 2018.  

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