Tuesday, you could hear the screams of holders of the publicly traded online gambling sites in Europe when the US Congress passed a bill making it a crime to assist in the transfer of funds in the US used for gambling purposes.
I have an online gambling account that I had not used in a very long time. I used to live in the UK. I have/had UK bank accounts. The site is actually a betting exchange - like a stock exchange for bets where you don't bet against a bookie but instead other bettors. I was able to bet legally and treated it as a hobby not unlike an online game like World of Warcraft. The only restriction I had was that as an employee of a UK bank/broker/dealer (and trader), I was not allowed to bet on financial markets. It was a fun hobby while I was there, I remember talking about various bets in the pub after work.
I logged onto the site to see what it would say. I got the following message:
Our software detects that you may be accessing the [website] from the United States. [Our website] does not accept bets from the United States. If you believe that this detection has occurred in error please contact the Help Desk.
I don't know exactly what the message says in Chinese when you try to access a site on democracy or religious freedom but I'm sure it's not disimilar. Of course there are ways to trick a gambling site into not realizing the user is in the US that will turn many otherwise law-abiding citizens into petty criminals. I also fear that making online gambling illegal will also increase the reach of organized crime on the internet. I, for one, will not bother to get involved. I don't see the point in breaking the law for a hobby. The Chinese can access information on Democracy when they travel abroad; I will access my online bets when on vacation. Besides, I have access to the best game on earth - the financial markets.
Gambling is legal in so many forms in the United States that are aimed at the poor - casinos, horse tracks, off-track betting and lotto are good examples. Online gamblers, by their familiarity with the internet and access to financial accounts, are more affluent than "in person" gamblers or those who play lotto. Now, I think that gambling in general causes more social harm than good - but so do cigarettes, alcohol, guns and exposing children to Britany Spears. I find it ironic that the current congress feels it is so important to restrict this type of expression.
Disclosure: I do not own any European online gaming stocks. They are still overvalued.