Online Gambling Debts – How to Deal With the Causes and Effects of Online Gambling Debts

One thing there is no shortage of on the internet is opportunities to gamble. We are spoilt for choice, whether your fancy is for betting on sports, playing virtual card games or bingo. One of the things that makes internet gambling so potentially dangerous is that it is easily available for 24 hours a day. The real danger comes when you combine this factor with the fact that it is so easy to feel detached from the reality of money spent online. Gradually racking up a debt online does not feel the same as handing over hard earned cash from our wallet, so it is that much easier to lose track of how your online spending is mounting up.

For these reasons, debt problems from internet gambling are on the increase. In this article I hope to clarify some of the legal issues around online gambling, as well as providing some advice on dealing with the underlying problem and the debts that result from it.

Legal Issues Around Gambling Debts

When we talk about debt from online gambling it is important to be clear about the nature of the debt, because who the money is owed to does make a difference. People are often unsure about the legality of debts from online gambling. In the UK you can gamble legally on credit and incur a debt, but this debt is not then enforceable through the law.

However, there is an important point to make here, which is that this only applies when you are using credit extended by the company offering the gambling (casino, bookie, etc). If you use a credit card company to pay for internet gambling, that is a legally enforceable debt the same as it would be in any other circumstance, because you have borrowed money from the credit card company, not the casino. It is now against the law in the US to use a credit card to pay for online gambling.

You will find that many credit cards will regard a payment to an internet gambling website as a cash advance. This is then clearly borrowing money from the card company and the debt you incur can be pursued through legal action. If you do use a credit card to pay for online gambling this way, you should be aware that cash advances on credit cards are almost always charged at a much higher rate of interest than normal credit for purchases.

How To Deal With Debts Caused By Gambling

In dealing with gambling debts, there are two separate issues to tackle. One is the debt itself, and the other is the habit of gambling that led to the debt. Even if the debt is dealt with, it is likely to build up again if the root cause is not tackled too. Let us first consider the problem of paying off the debt.

The principles for tackling debt are nearly always the same, irrespective of the causes of the debt. To permanently deal with debt you should not be considering borrowing more money or paying anyone to deal with your debt for you. These courses of action are likely to deepen your debt in the long run.

With a little advice, you can deal with your debts yourself, by contacting your creditors and agreeing terms for repayment that you can afford. There is clearly more to it than that, but it is beyond the scope of this particular article. The process is straightforward and allows you to take back control of your finances.

Factors Leading To Internet Gambling Debts

It may help to have an understanding of why some people can become addicted to online gambling. The following are often contributory factors:

Gambling can be thrilling, leading to an adrenalin rush and feelings that we want to recreate time and again.

Many addictive gamblers think that they can win money and that this will solve all their other problems. It actually just leads to more problems by creating debt, which can then make it seem even more important to win the money, creating a vicious circle.

Addiction to gambling can actually be a mental disorder, which can lead to a compulsive need to gamble.

Being addicted to online gambling is often associated with other personal difficulties, including depression and stress.

Online Gambling Debts – The Warning Signs You may have a problem if you can answer yes to any of the following questions:

When you are not gambling, do you think about gambling and how you are going to get back to it?

Have you ever missed work because of online gambling?

Do you feel the need to gamble again after winning or losing?

Is the length of time you spend on gambling getting longer and have you ever spent longer online than you thought you had?

Are you secretive about your gambling with family or friends and do you dislike other people bringing it up?

Practical Steps To Tackle Online Gambling Addiction If you think you may have a problem with online gambling, here are a few simple steps you can take to begin to reduce or stop the habit:

Be open with friends and family and seek help with the problem.

Cancel any accounts you have with websites for online gambling.

Consider using software that blocks your access to online gambling websites.

Online Gambling in Atlantic City

For better or for worse, online gambling is coming to New Jersey.

In late February, Chris Christie officially signed into law a bill that legalized internet gambling in Atlantic City.

Initially the bill was vetoed by the Governor because of issues surrounding transparency and taxes. Lawmakers adjusted the text and the amended bill passed by an overwhelming majority in the legislature and earned Christie’s seal of approval.

Here are the basics of the bill:

- Casinos located in Atlantic City will be able to apply for a license to offer online gambling. Only the twelve official Atlantic City casinos will be eligible for the license. No other organizations can offer internet gambling, and face stiff fines if they do. All facilities used for the operation of internet gambling must be located within city limits; only bets that are received by a server in Atlantic City will be legal.

- Players must be “physically present” in New Jersey to place wagers. In the future, New Jersey may develop agreements with other states where internet gambling is legal to permit out-of-state gambling. The casino’s equipment must verify players’ locations before accepting wagers.

- Any games available to play in the casinos can be played online. (For comparison, Nevada only allows poker.) As of now, sports betting will not be protected by this bill, although the state of New Jersey is trying to fight the federal statute barring the legalization of sports betting.

- The bill has all kinds of provisions to keep gambling addiction at bay, such as requiring the prominent display of the 1-800-GAMBLER hotline number, a way to set maximum bets and losses over a certain period of time, and tracking player losses to identify and limit users who may demonstrate addictive gambling behavior.

- Revenue from online gambling will carry a 15% tax. The Christie administration states that about $180 million in revenue for the state will be generated from this tax, but some analysts think this number is seriously overestimated.

The official regulations, which the bill required the Division of Gaming Enforcement to produce, were released on June 3, and are subject to a “public comment period” until August 2 before being finalized. These rules include details such as how a casino acquires the appropriate licenses and procedures for maintaining network security on gambling sites.

So, will online gambling actually benefit the state?

The Good

Revenues from Atlantic City casinos have been on the decline for the past seven years, and online gambling could be what saves the failing casinos. Since 2006, casino revenue has dropped from $5.2 billion to around $3 billion. Online gambling could be a $500 million to $1 billion industry in New Jersey, which may be enough to keep struggling casinos afloat and save jobs in Atlantic City. Further, even though estimates of tax revenue are all over the map, there is potential for online gambling to be a considerably valuable source of money for the state. The casinos will also have to pay a tax to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which will provide further assistance to struggling casinos in Atlantic City.

For the player, low overhead costs mean better prizes and more opportunities to play. Casinos can incent players with free “chips” that have minimal costs for them but give players more opportunities to play and win. The convenience of gambling online allows players to play more with less travel.

BAD:

One of the goals of the bill is supposedly to attract more people to visit the brick-and-mortar casinos, but it is hard to say if online gambling will actually lead to this outcome. One could speculate it could even cause people to go to the casinos less (However, this seems unlikely; the social element and the free drinks are lost in online gambling. Also, research indicates that, at least with poker, internet gaming does not reduce casino gaming.) Advertising for the host casino will be allowed on the online gambling sites, which could possibly encourage people to visit the casino but could also be annoying for players.

Online gambling could be seriously devastating for people who have gambling addictions, or even cause people to develop them, raising financial and moral concerns. Even with all the preventative steps the bill requires, it will definitely be much harder to cut off compulsive gamblers if they can place bets anywhere with an internet connection.

Regardless, it is going to be a while before the casinos can actually kick off their online gambling offerings. The regulations need to be finalized and casinos need to apply for licensure and develop their gambling websites. This means the casinos will not be enjoying this new source of revenue during the 2013 summer season, which could be Atlantic City’s toughest season ever following recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Online Gambling

Internet Casinos Inc. (ICI), the world’s first online casino, started operating from August 18, 1995, with 18 different games. Since then more than 1,400 websites, mostly domiciled in small Caribbean islands, have given rise to an industry that grosses over $3 billion a year. In fact no business on the Internet earns more revenue than online gambling. Out of the estimated 14.5 million online gamblers, almost 30 per cent are from Asia.

A bet can be placed in minutes. Anyone with a credit card can set up an offshore currency account with a gambling site, leaving them free to place bets on sporting events like Wimbledon, cricket, horse racing and Formula One, or join a virtual casino to play slot machines, roulette, blackjack, poker etc. Companies like Flutter and Betmart accept bets on anything from who is going to win the Nobel Prize to whether Madonna is getting a divorce or not. Bets can range from a nickel to thousands of dollars and according to whether you win or lose the amount is automatically adjusted to your account. The final balance can then either be mailed to you or left for future bets.

The law relating to online gambling in India needs to be understood within the country’s socio-cultural context. At the outset, gambling, although not absolutely prohibited in India, does not receive express encouragement by policy makers. The Indian organized gambling industry is estimated to be worth around US$8 billion. While stringent laws have checked the proliferation of casinos and high street gaming centres as in many other countries, barring the state of Goa, the lottery business remains the most post popular form of gambling.

Though gambling is not illegal, it is a highly controlled and regulated activity. Modern India is a quasi-federal Constitutional democracy and the powers to legislate are distributed at the federal as well as the state levels. Gambling features in List II of the Constitution of India, this implies that the state governments have the authority to enact laws in order to regulate gambling in the respective states. Thus, there is no single law governing gambling in the entire country. Different states have different laws governing gambling in addition to the laws that have an application across the country. While some states have banned lotteries, other states allow state government lotteries marketed and distributed in other lottery playing and promoting states through private entities.

Regulation of gambling

The courts have defined gambling as ‘the payment of a price for a chance to win a prize’. The dominant element of skill or chance shall determine the nature of the game. A game may be deemed to be gambling if the element of chance or luck predominates in deciding its outcome. As a result, Indian courts have held that betting on horse racing and a few card games are not gambling. The right to undertake the business of gambling and lotteries is not considered as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution of India. It may however be pointed out that the state government run lotteries make significant contributions to the state exchequer of several state governments and the Union government, and hence there is a resistance to complete prohibition.

The following legislation is pertinent to gambling:

The Public Gaming Act, 1867

This Act provides punishment for public gambling and for keeping of a ‘common gaming house’. This Act also authorises the state governments to enact laws to regulate public gambling in their respective jurisdictions. The penal legislations in respective states have been amended in accordance with their policy on gambling. However, this legislation does not have any direct impact on online gambling unless a wide interpretation is given to the definition of common gaming house so as to include virtual forums as well.

The Indian Contract Act, 1872 (ICA)

The ICA is a codified umbrella legislation that governs all commercial contracts in India. Under the ICA, a wagering contract is the one which cannot be enforced. The Act lays down; ‘Agreements by way of wager are void, and no suit shall be brought for recovering anything alleged to be won on any wager or entrusted to any person to abide by the result of any game or other uncertain event on which any wager is made’. Gambling, lottery and prize games have held to be wagering contracts and thus void and unenforceable. While a wagering contract is not illegal, it cannot be enforced in a court of law. Thus, the courts will not entertain any cause of action that arises out of a wagering contract.

Lotteries (Regulation) Act, 1998

This Act provides a framework for organizing lotteries in the country. Under this Act, the state governments have been authorized to promote as well as prohibit lotteries within their territorial jurisdiction. This Act also provides for the manner in which the lotteries are to be conducted and prescribes punishment in case of breach of its provision. Lotteries not authorized by the state have been made an offence under the Indian Penal Code. Several non-lottery playing states, like Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, have prohibited the sale of other state-government lotteries under this Act.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 294A deals with keeping lottery office. It says that whoever keeps any office or place for the purpose of drawing any lottery not being a State lottery or a lottery authorised by the State Government, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.

And whoever publishes any proposal to pay any sum, or to deliver any goods, or to do or forbear doing anything for the benefit of any person, on any event or contingency relative or applicable to the drawing of any ticket, lot, number or figure in any such lottery, shall be punished with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees.

Internet gambling

The law related to gambling is also applicable to online gambling. All gambling contracts are considered to be wagering contracts and it is not possible to enforce such contracts under the ICA, detailed above.

As pointed out earlier, the online lottery is the most popular form of internet gambling in India. Most companies marketing and distributing or conducting state government-sponsored lotteries through the internet are not allowed to sell their services in the states that banned lotteries. In most cases, these marketers and distributors limit their online services to consumers who are residents of the states where a lottery is permissible. Notwithstanding the fact there has been no reported case of breach by any company promoting online lotteries, most of these companies (as a safeguard) seek an undertaking from their consumers relating to their residence.

There have been instances where one state has banned the lottery of other states, including online lotteries. In a recent case, the Karnatka High Court upheld the decision of the Karnataka government to make itself a ‘lottery free zone’ by imposing a ban on lotteries of all other states, including online lotteries under the Lotteries (Regulation) Act 1998. The state government, in this case, directed the closure of the terminals and kiosks selling the online lotteries.

Enforcement over foreign jurisdictions

If the websites are hosted and operated from outside India, it may be difficult for the Indian authorities to issue any directive to close them down or prohibit their access without using its blocking powers under the ITA. The authorities have little to worry about, as Indian foreign exchange laws do not permit remittances outside India for gambling related activity, such as the purchase of lottery tickets, football pools and sweepstakes. As a result, a gambling website hosted outside India aiming at receiving money from within India cannot do so through legal channels.

Conclusion

Online gambling remains a highly regulated sector with seemingly limited horizons to grow. While the present regulatory framework makes it difficult for offshore gambling websites to target customers in India, the India-based companies can only distribute and market state-government lotteries online in permitted territories. The pervasive authority with the government to block gambling related websites and the impossibility of enforcing gambling-related contracts further discourage the prospects for the industry.