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Emily D. Swoboda

I-Gambling Declining among Young Adults in US - Is UIGEA Working?

28 November 2007

Some politicians and Internet gambling opponents argue that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) has reduced online gambling among college-aged youth, but others beg to differ.

During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Internet gambling earlier this month, witnesses--committee members among them--referred to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study suggesting that the UIGEA has done what it has set out to do: Eliminate the bad element from U.S. shores and protect the youth of America from immoral and addictive behaviors.

Data from the study shows that weekly Internet gambling among college-age youth (18 to 22) declined from 5.8 percent in 2006 to 1.5 percent in 2007, but Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling said that while the numbers appear to coincide with the enactment of the UIGEA, the only definitive result the study showed was that the UIGEA affected the availability of such sites.

"It seems to me they saw a drop in self-reported poker players and they attribute it to the UIGEA, and it probably parallels the drop off in participation that people saw after the act went through," Whyte said. "But I don't know that it's a permanent drop. I think it's much more that it made it inconvenient. From what I hear from the industry levels are back up, if not exceeding what they were (before the UIGEA)."

Whyte added that problematic behavior probably hasn't changed either.

"As we know, participation has now reached or exceeded pre-UIGEA levels, and it would be likely that it wasn't necessarily a shift in students gambling preferences and risk for gambling problems; it was merely a dip in the availability," he said. "I would suspect that if another survey was done in 2008, we'd see levels rise again."

The study also quantified other types of gambling among the same age group, such as card playing. Data showed that other forms of gambling are not necessarily declining. "It's not that kids have suddenly stopped gambling," Whyte said. "What I suspect is that the law had a temporary effect on Internet use and/or Internet card playing, but that's probably going to ramp back up."

Sarah Beth Hensley, a student journalist at Ohio University, investigated Internet gambling on campus for an article. She reported on students who are profiting on playing poker online at sites such as Full Tilt and PokerStars without compromising their academic or social standings.

One student said he has made a profit of $10,000 since January of this year, while another has earned $12,000 in five years. Both said they have used their winnings to pay for tuition, textbooks, rent and loans. Neither said he has suffered in terms of grades or social relationships.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., is one lawmaker who does not agree with the assessment that the UIGEA has stopped college kids from gambling online.

As a witness in the Judiciary hearing, Berkley challenged the proclamation of Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

Quoting the study, Smith said the law has reduced gambling by young people.

But Berkley fired back, saying, "Mr. Smith, if you think for a minute that the kids on college campuses and the dormitories aren't betting online you need to go visit some of them. They all are."

Whyte questions whether studies such as the oft-quoted Annenberg study do anything to support the lawmakers' claims.

"There are a number of reasons why it (the Annenberg study) doesn't support that (the UIGEA)," Whyte said. "Legislation and enforcement certainly has an impact on gambling availability. It always has. Gambling has always been a regulated industry and it's always waxed or waned dependent on what the law allows. There is no doubt the UIGEA had an impact, but whether that impact is sustained you cannot tell just from one year's worth of data."

I-Gambling Declining among Young Adults in US - Is UIGEA Working? is republished from
Emily D. Swoboda
Emily D. Swoboda