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Resisting Temptation

POSTED: 07:28 AM ET, 12/ 1/2008 by The Editors

Once upon a time in newspapering, it was trendy to dabble in participatory journalism. A reporter would spend time engaging in the activity he or she was writing about. Post investigative reporter Gilbert M. Gaul didn't think that would be a good idea as he gathered information for his two-part series about online poker, Inside Bet, as he says in this installment of Reporter's Notebook:


Gilbert M. Gaul, left, on assignment with Steve Kroft. (Tom Feehy / 60 Minutes)

As a younger reporter I spent a year in Atlantic City covering the casinos shortly after they opened in 1978. There were only three casinos at the time but they had all of the usual glitzy trappings of gambling halls, from row after row of slot machines to smoky back rooms with card tables.

The setting presented an interesting ethical dilemma. Was it appropriate for me to gamble in the industry I was hired to cover? Or would gambling somehow be a conflict? What if I lost a boatload of money and the casino offered to write the loss off in return for favorable coverage?

In all my time in Atlantic City I never gave the casinos a nickel, not because I opposed gambling on moral or philosophical grounds, but because I just didn't get the point. Why risk losing my hard-earned money when I could use it for something I really liked?

All of this came to mind again while reporting the story of the cheating scandals at Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, which cost players millions of dollars. Time and again, players who had been cheated asked me if I was going to write a negative story about Internet poker. When I asked them what they would consider a negative story, they quickly replied: one that might hurt online poker.

Stripped of all emotion, the arguments for and against Internet gambling are as much a moral debate as a legal one. Either you like gambling and the risks that come with it or you don't.

Opponents believe it corrupts the moral foundation of the family by feeding reckless addictions and preying upon human frailities. On the flip side, proponents point out the obvious: We are already a gambling society spending billions each year on casinos, government-operated state lotteries and charitable games. What difference will it make if we take the poker game from the kitchen table to the computer?

One difference is that the Internet offers a cloak of anonymity that gambling publicly doesn't exactly provide. It is possible to lose tens of thousands of dollars before your spouse or children detect the loss. This is one of the arguments offered against online gambling by family values groups.

Those favoring gambling reply: Well sure, but lots of things in life are risky -- drinking alcohol for example -- and we don't ban them completely. And look what happens when we try -- think alcohol again -- it doesn't work. Why not regulate online gambling instead, and pocket the tax revenues?

Some in Congress predict that the United States eventually will embrace online gambling, if for no other reason than we need tax dollars, now more than ever. I don't know about that. What I can say is that I never bet a nickel on Internet poker while reporting this story over several months.

By The Editors |  December 1, 2008; 7:28 AM ET Inside Bet , Reporter's Notebook
Previous: The Mohawk Connection | Next: Retracing Attackers Steps, Clinton to Disclose Donors, Labor Accused of Straying from Enforcement

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"....One difference is that the Internet offers a cloak of anonymity that gambling publicly doesn't exactly provide. It is possible to lose tens of thousands of dollars before your spouse or children detect the loss...."

There is no connection between public anonymity and potentially massive losses . Massive losses unknown to families are equally possible either at legal US casinos or in legal home gambling.

Posted by: pltrgyst | December 1, 2008 10:32 AM

"....One difference is that the Internet offers a cloak of anonymity that gambling publicly doesn't exactly provide. It is possible to lose tens of thousands of dollars before your spouse or children detect the loss...."

There is no connection between public anonymity and potentially massive losses . Massive losses unknown to families are equally possible either at legal US casinos or in legal home gambling.

Posted by: pltrgyst | December 1, 2008 10:33 AM

Equally possible? That's not true. A person can sit online for a few hours a week, losing thousands of dollars, and their spouse would have no reason to suspect anything, and probably would not be able to know until the bank or credit card statement comes, and maybe not even then if they don't see it. If a person is patronizing casinos constantly, their spouse is going to suspect they might be losing money and may have a problem

Posted by: grimesman | December 1, 2008 11:13 AM

In the mid 80's my brother-in-law's father gambled away tens of thousands of dollars (possibly more) at the horse track and underground casinos in NYC. This devastated his family and estranged my brother-in-law from his father for nearly 20 years. All prior to any of us knowing how to email, google, or even log onto AOl. Or take the doorman, profiled recently in a NYT article, who couldn't understand how he could not hit big prizes, despite spending $30k on scratch ticket in the past year.

The Internet has not created any new social problems and the increase of problem gambling due to ease of accessibility is marginal at best.

Posted by: bigpc | December 1, 2008 11:36 AM

I would like to know the author's understanding of the game. From his writing of this essay, he seems to group traditional poker games with the table games and slot machines designed to benefit the house. Poker games are raked a facilitation fee by the house, the house is never an active participant in the hands dealt, unlike games played against the house.

This results in a game where the most skilled player expects to win over the long run. This long term expectation never exists in table games and slots currently spread by casinos.

The casual player is the starting point for the poker economy and will often lose the most money as a group, but many play for the enjoyment of the game, some will put them selves at excessive risk, as some will with any hobby. It is each person's responsibility to conduct themselves within their means. How many BILLIONS were lost recently and in the 2000's because money was not properly invested by casual investors or those seeking returns beyond their tolerable risk?

Posted by: bigpc | December 1, 2008 12:41 PM


My experience as a player led me to quickly conclude that even the small limit nickel-dime internet games were rigged but they were the only games in town for a lot of people who were just playing for entertainment so they kept sending in their monthly dues. That translates to a lot of money for a site that has thousands of tables full at one time.

Most players are unaware that some
of the players are paid employees who "chat" with players to keep them coming back to the site. So there's more to beware than just the marked cards. The player, in fact, may be the mark.
What can you do? Urge your congressmen and state legislators to legalize and tax and regulate these so-called victimless crimes.
Thanks to The Post and Gilbert Gaul for this investigative report.

Posted by: dalewyatt | December 5, 2008 7:23 PM

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