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Online Gambling Too Elusive to Battle

9/28/08 - Lexington Herald-Leader

By Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — Monday evening, I plan to sit down with a group of regulars and spend a few hours kicking off the new season of our own little "poker tour." At least, I hope to last a few hours because, if I don't, it means I went all in early and lost.

Ours is a low-stakes game ($10 buy-in) where camaraderie and bragging rights take precedence over the opportunity to win big bucks. Actually, with this group, bragging rights trumps camaraderie fairly handily, too.

Over the next several months, we'll get together on a regular basis to play poker, eat pot luck, sip a libation or two (not so much the head doesn't remain clear) and generally have a helluva good time.

I can't imagine having anything close to that level of fun gambling in the faceless, voiceless, impersonal world of cyberspace. So, I don't go there. Never have gambled on-line; never will — and not just because on-line gambling is illegal while our friendly game is fine as long as no one takes a cut of the pots.

I don't gamble on-line because, when I call a bet, I want to see the bettor's face and body language. When I take down a pot, I want the poor souls who lost to know, personally, who won their chips. (Did I mention that bragging rights are important to this group?)

So, Gov. Steve Beshear isn't stepping on any of my toes by going to court to seize the domain names of on-line gambling sites. Still, I find his approach a bit puzzling for multiple reasons.

For instance, take the question of effectiveness. Say the state wins the rights to the domain name, as if anyone would play at a site with that name. Tomorrow, it comes back as or or

Secretary J. Michael Brown, of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, took the time the other day to explain to me why the administration's plan can work. And I understand what he and Beshear hope to accomplish.

But I remain doubtful about the ultimate success of this effort because the potential number of domain names the on-line gambling enterprises can switch to after their current names are seized is infinite, which means this could be an endless process.

And as long as some Kentuckians want to sit in front of their computer screens and bet on the flip of a virtual card, the on-line gambling industry will find a way to accommodate them — from offshore sites out of American jurisdiction.

Even if the administration's gambit could be 100 percent effective, there are better ways to address the "problem" of illegal Internet gambling than by completely denying Kentuckians this form of entertainment.

After all, Kentucky isn't exactly virgin territory when it comes to laying bets. As state Auditor Crit Luallen's office noted recently, the Kentucky Lottery Corp. was a $744 million enterprise last year, while charitable gaming had gross receipts of $489 million and horse racing had $470 million.

And let's not forget Beshear himself campaigned on the promise to put an amendment on the ballot so voters could decide if they want to have casino gambling provide a new source of state revenue.

It seems more than a bit ironic that he's now trying to keep Kentuckians from playing the same games in the virtual world that he wants them to play in the real world.

Sure, the difference is that on-line gambling is illegal. But why is it illegal? Because it's unregulated, and because it isn't taxed. You see, gambling only deserves that bad old "illegal" tag when government isn't getting its cut of the action.

So, faced with the horrors of an illegal form of gambling, it seems oddly inconsistent that a governor who's on the record backing the expansion of gambling opportunities in Kentucky wouldn't explore the possibilities of making on-line gambling legal by regulating and taxing it before trying to pull the plug on all of the state's cyber-gamblers.


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