11/25/2005 12:00AM

Internet gambling well worth legalizing

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Last Sunday on "60 Minutes," CBS did an expose" on Internet gambling. The only problem was we learned nothing new, especially if you live here in Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, casino gambling anchors our number one industry, tourism.

Tourism creates our vibrant economy. So anything that can affect our bread and butter, like Internet gambling, is covered by the local media as closely as white on rice.

The key is maybe the mainstream media is finally catching up with the issue.

Reporter Leslie Stahl summed it all up in her opening statement, "Internet gaming is illegal in the United States, and absolutely thriving."

Some of the statistics are eye-popping when heard for the first time. More than 12 million Americans have active accounts with offshore Internet gaming companies. These gaming companies will profit by more than $10 billion this year with 80 percent of that coming from the United States.

If the hold needed to create $10 billion in profits is say 20 percent, then the gross dollars wagered is at least $50 billion.

And every dollar wagered is considered illegal by the federal government, plus it is avoiding taxation and regulation.

The best comparison I can think of in U.S. history is Prohibition. In 1920, the U.S. government banned the sales and usage of alcoholic beverages even though most Americans were against the ban.

Terry Lanni, CEO of MGM Mirage, said on camera: "There's gaming in every state but two in the United States. . . . It's regulated and taxed, and we're comfortable with it. Why don't we allow it also in the area of the Internet where so much commerce is going through right now?"

Sixty-four countries currently license online casinos, including many of our closest allies.

Steve Lipscomb, CEO of the World Poker Tour added, "It's backwards . . . they keep the legitimate companies out of the business, and all of that goes to offshore companies that in no way can be regulated or taxed."

Nigel Payne, founder of Sportingbet, one of the world's biggest online gaming companies, outlined in the piece how lucrative Internet gaming is. "I don't need a hotel," he said. "I don't need any croupiers. I don't need any cocktail waitresses. I don't have to comp any drinks. I don't have to comp any hotel rooms."

It's the epitome of a low-expense, high-income industry.

Leading the charge for permanently banning Internet gaming is U.S. Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona). Sen. Kyl cites that "it's so easy for kids to do. It's so addictive. And it has frequently been demonstrated that there's a lot of graft and corruption in this."

If history has taught us one thing, it's that it's very difficult to legislate morality. Permanently banning Internet gaming now, instead of legalizing it, is closing the barn door after all the horses are gone.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.