The legality of online gambling is not an easy question to answer simply because the answer is different depending on where you happen to be sitting right now. It's been a grey area for some time because it's such a new phenomenon, relatively speaking.
Online gambling has only really been happening since the mid 1990s, with the first online casinos launched from Antigua. Naturally people flocked to them because of how convenient it is to be able to play a few hands or spin some reels from the comfort of your own home, particularly when the payouts are just as real as at a traditional land-based casino.
Since that time it has grown phenomenally, with many Internet gambling companies becoming so prosperous that they now have publicly listed stock trading around the world.Globally, it took a while for the various countries lawmakers to even realise that something new was going on, something that required an entirely new set of rules than anything they'd previously seen. Even territories that had state-sanctioned gambling were taken unawares.
There are many complexities in the interests driving the creation of new legislation to either ban or regulate the practise of online gambling. The most obvious is the moral debate – many countries have a portion of the population that somehow feels that gambling is wicked and should be banned outright.
Another interest group is existing owners and operators of traditional land-based casinos. Some experts estimate that online gambling is an industry that turns over in excess of $84 billion a year – and that money has to be coming from somewhere. A sizable chunk must logically be coming from a market sector that used to be forced to travel to casinos but no longer has to.
So in some areas traditional casino owners have a vested interest in crippling the online gambling industry. This becomes even more acute in countries where gambling is entirely state-run. In such countries online gambling can actually represent a threat to national public revenue.
But not everyone wants to shut down the online gambling phenomenon. Many countries realise the potential it brings, and are looking at ways of regulating it in the same way any other gambling operation would be.
This brings its own set of challenges because of how the Internet creates a global community without borders. Most often countries are looking at ways that they can grant foreign online gambling countries access to their territories, yet still be able to regulate the practices in operation. How does one exert control over an entity beyond one's borders?
Although the issue will no doubt be the source of much debate and legal battles for many years to come, many areas around the world are finding ways to license and tax the online gambling industry, which creates a win-win situation for both players and government.
Of course, other countries seem determined to drive themselves back into the dark ages, legally speaking. One thing is certain – people love to gamble. It therefore seems inevitable that legislation will eventually serve the people.