A former Colorado mayor is now a paid spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, or CSIG. Wellington Webb is his name, and he recently made news when he flashed the "race card" as a means of swaying public opinion against online gambling.
One of the CSIG's primary goals is to get U.S. Congress to reinstate its federal ban against the Internet activity. Over the past year, three American states have legalized online games within their borders: New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. Webb is employing an interesting tactic to promote his anti-gaming message to the public: He's using his status as Denver's first African American mayor to try to convince people that online gaming is especially harmful to black citizens.
The CSIG hopes to shield America's most vulnerable populations from the perils of Internet betting. These populations include children, the elderly, and the poor. According to Webb, America's black population should also be included in this list.
Webb Releases an Op-Ed
Webb recently published an opinion piece in The Hill, a Washington, D.C. newspaper, citing a statistical link between Americans of low socioeconomic status and a higher incidence of lottery ticket purchases. According to Webb, a significant chunk of America's low-income citizens are African Americans. Therefore, he concludes, black people are more likely to invest their money in the lottery.
Webb goes on to say that, according to Pew research, African Americans are more likely to own smart phones than whites. From these two pieces of research data, he draws the conclusion that black people are “uniquely susceptible” to the perils of online gambling, and that CSIG has a duty to protect them.
Calvin Ayre Refutes Webb's Claim
Webb's argument drew a response from online gaming proponents. Calvin Ayre, founder of the Bodog Entertainment Company, quickly countered Webb's research with a bit of his own. According to Ayre, those who gamble are six times more likely to be wealthy. This piece of research comes from a nine-year study out of British Columbia, and Ayre's argument implies that Webb's bit about lottery tickets is not a valid way to draw conclusions about problem online gambling. Ayre himself is Canadian.
Harvard and National Institutes of Health Weigh In
Whether African Americans are more likely to fall victim to the ills of gambling is up for debate. According to Harvard Health Publications, black people are twice as likely as whites to be compulsive gamblers, especially if they live within a 50-mile radius of a casino. Compulsive gambling isn't the same as casual gambling; rather, it's a psychological condition that includes a preoccupation with wagering accompanied by restlessness, irritability, dishonesty, and sometimes, criminal activity.
The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, acquiesces that little survey research exists regarding problem gambling among American minorities. A 2009 survey initiated by the NIH did confirm Webb's suspicion that African Americans are more likely to have a gambling addiction disorder than whites. According to the NIH, 2.2 percent of American blacks suffer a gambling disorder while only 1.2 percent of American whites do. America's combined subset of Native Americans and Asian Americans have the highest prevalence of gambling disorder at 2.3 percent, but it should be noted that the NIH did not calculate statistics for these two minorities separately.
In his fight for CSIG victory, Webb quotes the NIH survey in his op-ed, saying that minorities are twice as likely to fall prey to the perils of “disordered gambling” than whites.
Critics Refute Webb's Arguments
Many critics, including supporters on the online gaming industry, have publicly decried Webb's argument as preposterous. Here is a summary of some of their refutations:
- While it might be true that poor African Americans are more likely to own smart phones, this could very well be their only mode of access to the Internet. The focus of the Pew research was not how often black people gamble, but how they access the Internet. People who have a smart phone but no Internet subscription are actually less likely to spend time and money online.
- “Disordered gambling,” a term used by both Webb and the NIH, is far less severe than the pathological version of addiction. A person needs only three out of eleven “symptoms” on a DSM IV checklist to fall under the “disordered” category.
- Webb addresses low socioeconomic status as a contributing factor to addiction, but fails to address other pertinent factors, such as cultural norms and personal mood.
Webb: Recruited by Sheldon Adelson
Webb was recruited by CSIG founder Sheldon Adelson to lobby for the group's cause. Adelson has been a vocal opponent of online gambling since its inception and has vowed to use his accumulated wealth to fight its spread. Interestingly, Adelson made his fortune by heading up the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, owner of many destination casinos in the U.S., Macau, and Singapore.
Adelson's involvement with the CSIG has called his character into question many times. Critics ask why a man who made his fortune via the gambling industry would fight tooth and nail against its advancement in the digital world. According to Adelson, his battle is a moral one. People choose to physically enter a casino and spend their money there, and the responsibility for that choice falls upon their shoulders. Children and other vulnerable groups who are unwittingly exposed to online wagering at home, however, did not make that choice. These groups should be protected against a force over which they have little control.
Adelson's critics take a more jaded view of his involvement with the CSIG. They maintain that Adelson is simply looking out for his own financial interests. The expansion of online gambling takes money away from brick and mortar casinos. Specifically, the new industry takes money out of Adelson's pocket. These critics claim that this is Adelson's true motivation with the CSIG.
Regardless of Adelson's motivation, the CSIG continues to garner attention, as evidenced by the public's strong reaction to Webb's op-ed.