NEVADA -- Normally, the most vociferous calls for legalizing Internet gaming come from the growing online poker-playing community, offshore gambling site operators, civil libertarians and a handful of select members of Congress.
Add UNLV associate professor Kathryn LaTour to the chorus.
LaTour, who teaches in the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, has co-authored a study that says the legalization and regulation of online gambling in the United States and Canada could help reduce some of the activity's harm. Gambling addiction, she said, could be curtailed while regulation would keep underage gamblers out of the virtual casinos.
"It should be regulated," LaTour said. "When you get deeper into it, it's a battlefield. The integration of online gambling in the home can more easily turn gambling behavior into a component of a consumer's everyday life, like watching television."
The report, "Blackjack in the Kitchen: Understanding Online Versus Casino Gambling," will be published in February in the Journal of Consumer Research. LaTour said it is the first time the publication has included a study about gambling. She co-authored the report with June Cotte, a marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.
She was also quick to point out the study was funded by the hotel school, not the gaming industry.
LaTour said that despite the negative elements associated with Internet gambling, she is not opposed to the activity as long as some limits can be set.
The industry is estimated to be generating annual revenues upward of $10 billion to $12 billion, so its elimination seems remote. Online gambling is illegal in the United States. Canadian citizens can gamble online through provincial lottery corporations. North American consumers, however, easily engage in online wagering through Internet companies located offshore.
Both researchers thought regulating the industry could lead to a form of taxation. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., offered a bill earlier this month that would legalize and tax Internet gaming. The legislation was opposed by Nevada's congressional delegation.
"There are a lot of tax dollars out there that could be collected," LaTour said.
The UNLV associate professor is not a gambler, but said she logged onto different gambling sites to see how they operate. She came across underage gamblers and what she believed to be compulsive gamblers. Chat rooms on the Web sites had graphic conversations and could be used for stalking, she said.
"The legalization of online gambling allows for better regulation, including efforts designed to reduce the number of problem gamblers," LaTour said.
The two researchers interviewed 20 regular casino gamblers and 10 regular online gamblers. The results of the study show that online gamblers wager more frequently and more aggressively. While casino gambling requires travel outside the home and often involves interaction with casino personnel and other gamblers, online gambling can be accomplished wherever the home computer is located.
"Online gamblers are much more prone to suffer from all the negative aspects," LaTour said. "The activity lacks social interaction, which can increase the risk of addiction."
Regulation, the report suggests, could make better use of age checks; cross-check users with lists of pathological gamblers; set wagering and financial limits; make information available about problem gambling and include the availability of an online counselor; set mandatory periods for gamblers to stop wagering; and make win-loss tabulations more central. Both researchers are opposed to flashing, bright graphics that signal winning bets.
In addition to McDermott's proposal, Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., has called for a one-year study of Internet gambling by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has proposed legislation that would overturn a ban on Internet gambling and require the Treasury Department to regulate online betting.
The American Gaming Association, which represents the casino industry in Washington, D.C., and is neutral on Internet gambling, has supported Berkley's bill.
Holly Thomsen, a spokeswoman for the association, said the gaming group is seeking a federally funded study to evaluate the effects of online gambling. The organization's board wants to know if Internet gambling can be effectively legalized and regulated in the United States.
"Such an endeavor could evaluate whether legalization, regulation and taxation, on a state-option basis, may be a more viable option than a complete ban on Internet gambling, and would result in recommendations to Congress on the best way to handle the issue," Thomsen said in an e-mailed statement.
LaTour said Nevada, where gamblers can wager most anywhere, including grocery stores, convenience stores and bars, has its share of online gamblers. She would like to see the state collect taxes from the activity.