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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

CNBC Investigates Online Gambling But Misses Key Points

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As online gambling continues to grow and become a factor in the legal, political, and business world, it is inevitable that negative aspects of the industry will become fodder for news programs and feature stories. While not the first time it happened, CNBC chose to do a one-hour investigative television program that focused much of its time on illegal gambling and some negative stories that have made their way into the spotlight.

The December 16th broadcast entitled “The Big Business of Illegal Gambling” brought the online gaming industry to the public by highlighting its perceived dangers, antiquated ties to the mob, and stories of gambling addictions. Promotions for the show touted an “in-depth look at just how mainstream illegal gambling has become” as reported by CNBC’s Melissa Francis. The ominous nature of the topic was clear from the press release to the show itself.

The first half of the show looked at sports betting and how much of the industry takes place outside of its legal place in Las Vegas. From the online sportsbooks to bookies, much time was focused on how bettors circumvent the law to maintain their livelihoods. The spotlight story focused on a sports bettor who struggled with addiction and lost his home, went into debt, and stole other people’s money to maintain his betting habits. No mention was made of the sports leagues’ stance on the practice of betting and how it is slowly changing, which was recently exemplified by a Sports Illustrated interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern that indicated legalized sports betting may be in the cards after all.

The second half of the television program was dedicated mostly to online poker and casinos, with specific reporting on the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet cheating scandals. They were able to tell the story rather concisely, even noting that the alleged culprit of one of the scandals, Russell Hamilton, has not been prosecuted. However, what the story neglected to say was that the online sites involved in the scandals paid back the cheated players and continue to assist other alleged victims, in addition to the fact that regulation by the U.S. government could take over the task that is now performed by most poker sites that are upstanding and report to licensing and regulation currently based offshore.

There was mention of the current laws and proposed legislation, and Rep. Jim McDermott was interviewed about his piece of pending legislation regarding taxing online poker players and websites once licensing and regulation processes are implemented. But the omission of more detail about Rep. Barney Frank’s bills was glaring, and mentions of the UIGEA left out the way in which the bill was passed in 2006 and how difficult it has been to instruct financial institutions to enforce it. McDermott noted the revenue possible from the legalization of the online gaming industry, though more focus was placed on the number of people “illegally” gambling on the websites and with the current framework, or lack thereof, in place.

CNBC is known for its investigative journalism, but the millions of people in the United States - a conservative figure at best - who play online poker at low stakes and for the pure enjoyment of the American pastime of cards were not considered when reporting on the industry of gambling. The focus on the seedy part of the business, reeking of mob dealings and addiction, clouded the show and eliminated any opportunity to show the real, everyday side of the online gaming industry.

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