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The estimated number of people gambling online doubled in 2005 over the previous year, and 70 percent of all Internet gamblers only started playing in the past two years, a new survey shows.
The survey by the American Gaming Association's research arm buttresses the association's recent call for a one-year federal study of Internet gambling.
"This survey isn't what prompted our board of directors to seek the study, but it's a nice complement," American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf said Monday during a conference call to discuss the group's eighth annual survey.
The lobbying group annually conducts the Survey of Casino Entertainment, but the report marked the first time it looked in depth at Internet gambling. The lengthy report also included a look at the economic effect legalized gambling had in the United States during 2005.
The survey found that 455 casinos in 11 states took in $30.3 billion in gaming revenue in 2005, a 5 percent increase from 2004. More than $11 billion came from Nevada casinos while Atlantic City casinos accounted for $5 billion.
Racetrack casinos, commonly referred to as racinos, took in $3.12 billion from gamblers at 29 locations, a 9 percent increase.
Fahrenkopf said the data point to a continued increase in casino gambling growth despite the loss of revenues during part of the year from almost two dozen casinos damaged or destroyed by Gulf Coast hurricanes. About a dozen of those properties remain closed.
"This year's survey confirms that the U.S. commercial casino industry has continued to grow despite the significant obstacles of the past year and has become an integral component of America's entertainment culture," Fahrenkopf said.
In the report, researched by nationally known pollster Peter D. Hart Research Associates, the typical online gambler is a male under the age of 40 who is college-educated and more affluent than most citizens.
However, while almost half of those surveyed said they gamble online because of its convenience, 55 percent of Internet gamblers believe online gaming companies find ways to cheat and about 46 percent believe their fellow players cheat online.
"It comes down to a convenience element," said research firm president Peter Hart. "The same reason people go to 7-Eleven, easy access and open 24-7, is the reason people gamble online. There is also the comfort, the relaxation and the anonymity. They don't have to deal with crowds."
While the survey found that just a small percentage of the U.S. population gambles online -- roughly 4 percent -- the figure is double from 2004.
Hart said four out of the five Internet gamblers surveyed live in states without commercial casinos. Most Internet gamblers, according to the survey, participate in at least two different betting activities, including poker, traditional casino games and sports wagering.
Fahrenkopf said that as more and more people discover online gambling, the traditional casino industry has taken notice. He estimated recently that between $12 billion and $15 billion will be wagered online this year, 60 percent coming from U.S. citizens.
"Our member companies are not involved in online gambling, but some, such as MGM Mirage, has been bullish in looking at this issue," Fahrenkopf said. "Our board believes the federal government needs to take a look at this issue. Even if (Internet gambling) were legal today, I'm not sure (all the American Gaming Association members) would participate."
The survey revealed that there is some confusion about the legality of online gambling in the United States; only 19 percent of those surveyed realize the activity is considered illegal in the United States.
At the end of April, the American Gaming Association's board asked Congress to set up a federal commission to look at Internet gambling. The organization remained neutral on federal legislation that would prohibit online betting.
Fahrenkopf believes it is too late in the current congressional session for anything to be accomplished on regulating Internet gambling.
The survey also found that interest remains in poker. While one in five Americans have played poker in the past 12 months, Hart said, 80 percent of all Internet gamblers play poker while 68 percent of Internet poker players have played the game in a casino.
Also, the American Gaming Association said overall casino gambling acceptability remains high. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents say gaming is acceptable for themselves or others.
According to the poll, 83 percent of Americans view gambling as a question of personal choice, and 72 percent see casinos as a valuable part of a community's entertainment and tourism options.
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