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:
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
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