he following is my column from Sunday's Daily Press, playing off a story I wrote last week about EZ Horseplay, operated by Colonial Downs. Upon further reflection, I do see one difference in the "sweepstakes cafes" versus EZ Horseplay. The "sweepstakes cafes" entire reason for existence is to set up locations where people could wager money and play games to see whether they won a "sweepstakes." Meanwhile, EZ Horseplay kiosks are in other entertainment venues, such as bars, restaurants, etc.
Anyway, here's the column....
The odd contortions of gambling laws
By Joe Lawlor
jlawlor@dailypress.com | 247-7874
Gambling is a strange public policy and social issue, a dynamic that was on display in the pages of the Daily Press last week.
For Friday’s newspaper, I wrote about the new EZ Horseplay kiosks that are being rolled out all over the state by owner Colonial Downs. New ones were installed at Cozzy’s Comedy Club in Newport News this year. Using the kiosks (or on home computers), customers can bet unlimited amounts on live horse races around the world.
Gambling is the subject of much debate and study. Meanwhile, the lines have become ever more blurry. I don’t pretend to have any answers, but let’s look at some recent examples of odd contortions in gambling laws.
Virginia Beach and other localities raided Internet “sweepstakes cafes” in 2010, claiming they were akin to gambling. After a proposal to open two cafes in Newport News, Republican Del. G. Glenn Oder sprang into action. The General Assembly quickly banned such activities this year.
But if it’s OK to bet unlimited amounts on the horses — using your home computer or a kiosk at a bar — why is it forbidden to play the “sweepstakes” games in your favorite strip mall? It’s difficult to see a distinction from the ethics standpoint.
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature went through several twists and turns before allowing casinos in a few locations. The initial law allowed slot machines, but table games like poker and blackjack were banned from the casinos. After realizing the silliness of such a distinction, the state in 2010 permitted table games at the casinos.
If you think the federal government is any less confused, think again. The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act appears to carve an exception for online horse wagering, but merely maintains a murky status quo, according to Joseph Kelly, a New York professor who specializes in gaming law. So far, FBI stings have focused on poker and other forms of betting.
What seems to spur some states into action is competition. If an adjacent state has a highly successful casino, jealous neighboring state officials see disposable income and taxes fleeing across the state lines.
And money — whether it’s state revenue or the kind you might lose on a trifecta on EZ Horseplay — is the ultimate game-changer.