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WiredSafety Founder Responds to Newsweek Gambling Article

The cover story on this week’s edition of Newsweek magazine is an anti-online gambling article entitled “Poker Face.” You may have heard about it. It is an unmitigated disaster of a piece, using biased reporting, shoddy research, and incorrect facts to make a U.S. assistant attorney general look like a political schemer and online gambling look like something dreamt up by the devil himself.

Shortly after the article was published on Newsweek’s website late last week, the magazine posted a Letter to the Editor written by Parry Aftab, Founder and Director of WiredSafety, “the largest and oldest online safety, education, and help group in the world.” Aftab is an expert in the field of internet safety and has testified in a Congressional hearing on internet gambling. She is not “pro-online gambling” exactly, but does support legalization and regulation as a means of keeping U.S. residents safe from potential problems that could result from gambling.

In the letter, Aftab said, “we [WiredSafety] vehemently disagree with the conclusions set forth in this piece,” adding, “The only way to address online gambling risks to children, seniors, problem gamblers and others is by regulating it and enforcing best practices – not by pretending it doesn’t exist.”

She continued:

Americans currently spend approximately $3 billion per year on offshore and US unregulated Internet gaming. Given this huge demand, the only way to effectively police and prevent fraud, cyber scams, as well as to protect vulnerable populations, is to subject trustworthy companies to strict regulation that will manage the risks and provide governmental oversight.

Such regulations should include: auditing of the fairness of the games and player practices; enhanced security tools and technologies for age verification, consumer education, parental control technologies, effective dispute resolution systems and recourse against fraud; and technologies to help those who might have difficulties controlling their gambling.

Aftab then mentioned a paper by Malcolm Sparrow from the Kennedy School at Harvard (commissioned by WiredSafety) that looked at what other countries have done with online gambling regulation. It concluded that regulation was the best course of action for consumer protection, not prohibition.

“While all gambling is by its nature risky,” she wrote, “unregulated gambling is substantially worse. More bans just won’t work. Without platforms for safe and legal online gaming, the U.S. will continue to find itself in the unfortunate position of being helpless to stop – or protect – those who will continue to gamble online.”

Of course, the author of “Poker Face,” Leah McGrath Goodwin, had to have the last word, publishing a lengthy response, not specifically to Aftab’s letter, but to the criticisms levied upon her and her article. “The piece sought to question the transparency of the legal process that allowed online gambling to be introduced in its latest incarnation,” she wrote, “the role of the U.S. Department of Justice, the Obama administration and deep-pocketed private gambling interests; and the risks of online gambling in a wireless world – particularly one in which serious problem-gambling is concentrated among some of the youngest members of our society.”  newsweek-poker-face-cover

One of the concerns people have expressed with her article already is that any discussion about the legal or political process was tilted severely against President Barack Obama and the “Obama administration,” as if Virginia Seitz’s clarification of the Wire Act was some left-wing conspiracy, funded by BIG GAMBLING, to implant casinos into the brains of every man, woman, and child in the United States. She fails to question, though, the transparency of the legal process that brought the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) into existence in the first place.

Goodwin thinks that it was somehow some smoky backroom deal that brought about the Wire Act clarification, though she presents no evidence that that was the case. Occam’s Razor would say that Seitz’s clarification of the Wire Act was in response to a couple governors asking for said clarification to see if online lottery sales were ok in their states and that said clarification was the correct interpretation because the Act had been improperly interpreted for a long time. Also, most reasonable people would say that because it is all true.

In her response, Goodwin claimed:

In my interviews for Newsweek, I spoke with a wide range of experts, some named in the story and others not. These sources represented all sides of the discussion and included the White House, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, gaming regulators, industry advocates, youth-gambling experts, gaming companies, politicians, lawyers and scientists.

No view was unwelcome and there was no bias for or against online gambling. The focus was simply on getting the best information possible.

So where were all these sides of the discussion? If she got the “best information possible,” where is that information? I call bullshit. Goodwin can explain away the criticisms all she wants, but the bottom line is she wrote an editorial cloaked in the jacket of a real news piece, using only the bits of research she felt were convenient to advance her own agenda.

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