Taking a Gamble at ‘In the Agora’

by Joel on March 27, 2006

It seems that my blogging friend Josh Claybourn and his associates at In the Agora (ITA) are partnering with an online overseas-based gaming operation (PartyPoker) owned by and largely funded by former billionaire online pornographers J. Russell DeLeon and his wife Ruth Parasol.

People can make their own individual judments as to whether they gamble. However, I have some specific objections:

1. The U.S. Justice Department has made it clear they consider online gambling to be illegal. True, they haven’t been able to shut it down, largely because the outfits, such as PartyPoker, don’t own any U.S. assets and are incorporated elsewhere (PartyPoker is set up in Gilbralter). Should bloggers advance causes of dubious legality?

2. Many individual states have declared online gambling to be illegal and have warned their citizens against it. Some states have written to PartyPoker and warned them they are operating illegally. Of course, surprise, surprise, since they are overseas, they simply ignore the warnings.

3. The seed money for this outfit was largely online pornography, which is a very exploitive business, to say the least. That alone ought to give Christians pause.

4. Josh and other writers (although not all, as ITA is diverse) have invested a lot of personal capital over the last few years in advancing and defending Christianity. This latest endeavor seems a direct assault on the cause of the faith. (I also don’t see this as advancing Josh’s possible future political aspirations, but then that is his business.) Gambling is a serious addiction for many, and it isn’t as if it doesn’t get a lot of advertising elsewhere. Further, a good number of college kids have been caught up in the craze, often to their significant detriment.

5. Since the outfit isn’t subject to U.S. oversight, how is one to be certain that PartyPoker’s operations are in the up-and-up with respect to Americans availing themselves of this entertainment service?

6. Are their regulations truly stringent enough to keep minors at bay?

7. Will the owners now stay out of the online pornography business, or might they reenter it at some future date, using as seed money gambling investments made at ITA’s invitation? Yes, I know we spend money all time that goes into things we disapprove of, but what if we know in advance that the risk might be significant?

I tend to have some fairly libertarian leanings as to how involved government should be in regulating personal morality. That doesn’t mean that we Christians should be indifferent to the possible damage caused by such an enterprise. I do recognize that people hold differing opinions as to whether or not the Bible would classify all gambling as sin, but I should at least note that the United Methodist Church strongly condemns it. (Former Education Secretary and “virtues” guru Bill Bennett, in racking up some rather large gambling debts said in his defense that he had never classified gambling as a moral evil.)

Correction/Clarification: It seems that I wrongly assumed that Josh’s co-bloggers agreed to or were consulted about the “partnering.” Several of them have expressed online or by e-mail to me that they were not involved. My apologies.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Richard 03.27.06 at 11:09 pm

I very much agree with you about this, Joel. I was more than a little shocked to read about this ‘partnership” on In the Agora.

2

Bene D 03.28.06 at 8:30 am

PartyPoker?
Is this a April Fool’s thing?

Did these guys do any basic homework, or are they willing to dismiss the bankruptcies and suicides, let alone the rest of what comes out of this Pandora’s box?

Party Poker is worth 2 billion and that ain’t because it’s legal and poker is fun.

Have In the Agora contributors read any none industry funded studies on online gambling?

They could start here: http://www.apa.org/releases/gamblingonline.html. Countless studies have been done, a 25 dollar comp is not harmless fun.

For crying out loud, the job of PartyPoker is to comp young people, they are the fastest growing group of problem gamblers.

This is absolutely irresponsible, I’m disappointed, but not surprised.
What are the men at In the Agora getting for the comps, besides a loss of credibility?

3

Bene D 03.28.06 at 10:25 am

2005 -ComScore Media Metrix — which measures all U.S. Internet users at home, work and college locations — reports more than 29.1 million unique visitors to online gambling sites in April, out of a total audience of 165 million.

Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, card playing for money has increased among males between the ages of 14 and 22. In 2004, 11.4% of in-school male youth reported betting on cards at least once a week, up from 6.2% in 2003; furthermore, 11.4% of these weekly card players are likely to gamble on the Internet.

PartyGaming, (casino games) the parent of PartyPoker.com, is planning to go public this week on the London Stock Exchange in an IPO valued at $9 billion. According to press reports, the company reported a profit of $371 million in 2004 on revenue of $601.6 million. For the first quarter of 2005, PartyGaming reported a profit of $125 million.

Observers agree that the numbers are impressive — at least for the leaders. “It’s a big business, widely distributed and badly regulated,” says Wharton legal studies professor Dan Hunter.
Indeed, the proliferation of online gambling operators such as the Gibraltar-based PartyGaming has opened a host of public policy, legal and e-commerce debates: What is legal? Do current laws on the books have any impact on Internet gambling? Can U.S. authorities realistically cut off Internet sites that operate offshore? Is it up to states to legalize online gambling?

In the Agora bloggers offering comps can’t regulate the age of their taker any more than the gambling sites do. You have to put in 125.00 before getting your 25.00 comp. The house always wins.

PartyPoker 2005
More than 2,000 gambling Web sites this year will rake in nearly $10 billion in revenue, most from U.S. consumers. That’s up 40% from 2004. In 1996, when lawmakers first sought to curb Internet gambling, 30 sites collected $30 million, says researcher Christiansen Capital Advisors. That makes gambling one of the Internet’s largest moneymakers, even though it is illegal.

Poker revenue is expected to double to more than $2 billion and attract 1 million players a month. Americans play at 266 Web sites, up from 53 in June 2003, says gaming site CasinoCity.com.

“Poker has jolted the industry,” says Mike Sexton, a professional poker player who consults for PartyPoker.com, which is expected to haul in $1 billion in revenue this year. “Playing poker is a skill and considered cool,” he says. “It’s acceptable whether you’re sitting around a table with friends or in front of a PC.”

More people are gambling online believing reputable sites won’t rip them off.

That has meant more business for virtual slot machines, bingo and roulette. At the same time, advances in wireless technology make it easier for consumers to place wagers on sports events from cell phones or a personal digital assistant.

About 3% of people acknowledge gambling online at work, vs. 2% in 2003, according to a survey by Harris Interactive last year.

Countries are powerless to stop the growth, encouraging banks not to allow credit cards to be used for on line gambling while they look at legislative ways to crack down on internet gambling.

These facts validate other reputable world wide research and don’t begin to address the levels of problem gambling identified by research centres like Harvard. Good Urban Policy research on gambling coming out of Indiania U.

4

Wood 03.28.06 at 12:14 pm

Is this a cultural thing?

British conservatives consider gambling to be Right Out for Christians. Absolutely Not On. Is playing poker all right for American Conservatives, then? Is this like the opposite of beer?

5

Mark Byron 03.28.06 at 1:15 pm

Amen, Joel.

I was loathe to play the prude card when I read that post this weekend; I’m glad you had the guts to do so.

It doesn’t make sense from a Gospel angle, as you point out well. It makes even less sense from a political angle; given the Abramoff scandal and its native-American-gambling connection, this is a time when American conservatives, especially those who fashion themselves as Christian, need to keep well away from the “gaming” industry.

6

J 03.28.06 at 1:41 pm

Has he ever gotten back to you about why ITA is doing this? It does seem like a strange “partnership” (I’m assuming that was you that he promised a response to in comments). Re paragraph 4 and your points about William Bennett - I don’t know anything about Josh C, but could this be the same situation? People tried to tar Bennett with the hypocrisy brush, but he’s a member of a denomination that openly uses gambling events as fundraisers and clearly doesn’t regard gambling as sinful. Maybe that’s the balance of opinion at ITA, though I agree the porn connection should give them pause.

7

Bene D 03.28.06 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for the update and clarification, every group blog works differently.
A partnership and decision by one member.
No need co-bloggers be tarred and feathered.:^)
Decent of the rest of the group on the blog to respond to you - the way the post read, it inferred they all partnered and that’s a hit to their individual credibility.
Nicely done, and very fair Joel.

8

Joel 03.30.06 at 6:33 am

I don’t know that the Bible specifically prohibits gambling, but gambling seems to almost inherently skew priorities. On the one hand it might be considered a form of entertainment, but on the other hand, it may have an affect on the brain dopamine centers greater than many other “thrill” endeavors. Gambling carries a great risk of “love of money” but not exclusively so as regards other endeavors.

A PBS report showed that American wagering rose from $17 billion in 1974 to $482 billion in 1994, a 2800% increase. (I don’t think the $482 billion is a net figure, though — I think it also includes the re-wagering of winnings.)

The ease of online gambling may be a particular danger. With casinos and such at least one has to get in their car and go somewhere. In such cases, there may also be a greater dinleaneation between “this is my two or three days or a week of fun” and “now its time to get back to work.” With online, wagering can be done just about anywhere, anytime.

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