Online sports betting is quite the growth industry.

Watch a professional athletic competition on TV and you are likely to see more gambling commercials than you will the old reliables such as cars, beer and snack food. The ads sell you on the thrill, the interaction, the potential prize — all the things you would get out of participating in sports betting at a casino or at the track, but with one added benefit.


Online betting provides the thrill of gambling through a device in your pocket. No need to drive across town and hack your way through a smoke-scented crowd.

It is a system that was timed well for Pennsylvania. The first virtual sportsbook opened in the Keystone State in May 2019. It was running well by the time the coronavirus pandemic shuttered sporting events in March 2020. As athletic events returned but social distancing still kept the seats empty or at least restricted, it allowed online gambling to take a prominent place as a way to participate in favorite activities. Can’t tailgate? You can still place a bet.

In the two years since online wagering was allowed, the total placed on the line has hit $6 billion. For perspective, Pennsylvania legalized sportsbooks in 2018. The total for all sports gambling since then? $6.7 billion. Online gambling has crushed its in-person counterpart in a fraction of the time in the midst of a quarantine.

That does translate into a nice chunk of change for the state, which has collected $92.8 million in taxes. Local government has raked in another $5.46 million. The benefits are obvious, especially at a time when many other industries are struggling because of the pandemic and resulting economic shifts.

But while gambling is a great additional income, is it a bedrock that economic hope should be built upon?

More states are working on opening their borders to the online game, just as many followed down the in-person rabbit hole of casinos or the medicinal or recreational routes of cannabis use. After years of restricting vices, state governments seem to have fully embraced monetizing them.

This is not an argument for or against any such activity on moral or ethical grounds. This is purely about the wisdom when it comes to long-term planning for income.

Aside from the other states getting into the business, there are other impacts. Casinos, for example, were meant to be more than just a source of gambling revenue. They were job generators. Restaurant staff, hotels, all those jobs at gaming tables — all of those in-person activities hit hardest by covid-19.

But online gambling doesn’t support those Pennsylvanians the same way. An online platform can make its money at a distance, not feeding as much back into the community.

None of this is to say that online gambling should be rolled back or fenced in — just that relying upon it as a growth area for tax revenue might be something to question critically.

— The Tribune-Review, Greensburg/TNS

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