Editorial: Online Gambling Needs Jack Dempsey

18 November 2003

Few men in the course of history meant more to their generation than Jack Dempsey meant to America and the rest of the world in the 1920s.

And boy, could the online gaming industry use one of boxing's greatest champions, and of course, not for his fighting prowess. Although it would be nice to see someone give a swift left jab to the face of some of the prohibition leaders in Congress, we know there are better ways to work compromises on Capitol Hill.

So what does a boxing legend have to do with the online gaming industry? Well, nothing. Unless of course, you are Larry Holmes trying to cash in on the fleeting name recognition you have by launching an online casino -- which later failed of course.

The history buff and sports lover that I am, I started reading a book last week about Dempsey and the way people lived during his era. Dempsey first won the heavyweight belt with a knockout of Jess Willard in 1919 in front of a sweltering sold out crowd in Toledo, Ohio. The title fight was just a year after some "moral" Republicans imposed a federal ban on all alcohol throughout the U.S. that was billed as "prohibition."

Even back then, those opposed to the prohibition movement argued that, by outlawing adult beverages, organized crime gangs would gain a meteoric rise to power.

Had anyone ever heard of Al Capone before 1920? Probably not. But the crime boss and his gang rose to power during the decade and become the muscle behind everything that was done not only in Chicago, but nearly the entire mid-section of the country.

None of this is really relevant to the Internet gambling industry, unless of course you have no interest in learning from your past. History is doomed to repeat itself, right?

The main reason Congress voted to prohibit alcohol was because many argued that too much drink would bring the eventual downfall of the country. These arguments were being made on the heels of World War I and as Presidential candidates and Congress debated whether or not the U.S. should form and join the League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations.

Now, fast-forward nearly 90 years and we are hearing similar arguments being made about online gambling. If people can legally gamble online, in the comfort of their own homes, families will be destroyed as they spiral into bankruptcy, opponents of the industry argue. They say minors will have unfettered access to gambling and harmless housewives will innocently gamble away Little Johnny's college fund because they will get hooked on Internet bingo.

Congressmen tend to get re-elected because of knee-jerk reactions. After a horrendous school shooting spree in Colorado sent shockwaves through the country in 1999, politicians immediately targeted role-playing and violent video games which the "nice boys" seemed to be addicted to playing.

Do you see a running theme here? The U.S. has to lead the world in lack of personal responsibility through its history.

Could heavy drinking lead to addiction and other personal and social problems? Absolutely. Could moderate drinking be done safely and socially and allow a channel for the millions of responsible adults to enjoy themselves and relax? For sure.

Did excessive video game playing contribute to shooting deaths in Columbine? Probably. Were they the only factor that caused some messed up kids to completely go off the deep end? Is everyone who plays them susceptible to showing up one day and gunning down people at will? No way.

Could online gambling, or gambling of any kind, cause financial ruin and undue stress on a family or individual? Most definitely. Are there enough responsible adults who would enjoy a side bet or an evening of casino gaming every now and then on their computer to at least make Congress study the feasibility of regulating the industry and reaping some much needed tax revenue in the meantime? You bet.

In fact, Australian regulators and their counterparts in New Zealand might want to consider banning the Rugby World Cup. It seems after the All Blacks were upset in the semifinals over the weekend domestic violence on the island rose sharply and many wives reported heavy drinking by their abusive husbands.

Domestic violence is no laughing matter, but clearly if fans of the Rugby World Cup are going to be driven to such madness when their team loses the event should surely be prohibited.

Jack Dempsey had more people come to watch him fight, more than 120,000, than any other sporting event of the 1920s. He made more money, by tenfold, than the legendary Babe Ruth during the height of his baseball career. All during a time when Al Capone and his bootlegging buddies ruled the streets of Chicago.

Nothing good came out of prohibition.

Just like nothing good will come out of prohibiting the online gaming industry in the U.S. In due time, Congress realized the importance of the League of Nations and took a leading role in its formation. The country now is regarded as the world leader. It has taken off its cloak of isolationism but some of its leaders still yearn for a sense of prohibition.

Something good did come out of prohibition now that I think about it. Although the federal government repealed the act in 1933, after nearly 8,000 gangsters in Chicago alone were gunned down over alcohol turf wars, many southern states continued to remain dry.

As bootleggers tried to find new ways to outrun local law enforcement in the 1950s, a whole new sport sprung up. Hard to believe that the million dollar world of NASCAR was born from such rebellious roots.

Of course, if you ask my wife, she would have probably just as well had the whiskey flowinng free in the 1950s. I would probably be much more productive on Sundays if the races weren't on.

So, deal me some cards on that Internet poker room, and let's all have a drink, "To Jack Dempsey," of course.

Nobody knows where Kevin Smith came from. He simply showed up one day and started writing articles for IGN. We liked him, so we decided to keep him. We think you'll like him too. Kevin can be reached at kevin@igamingnews.com.