In a House Financial Services Committee hearing on June 25th, the topic was HR 5767, which would have blocked the regulations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) from becoming a reality. Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) led the opposition to the bill. Bachus centered his arguments not on the merits of the UIGEA or even on whether the law could ever actually be enforced. Instead, Bachus took the moral road, focusing on the deleterious effects of gambling on our nation’s youth.
Bachus encapsulated his preliminary remarks by quoting a statistic from a McGill University study. Rather than attempt to paraphrase what he said, I’ll just quote it directly: “Most significantly, [internet gambling] causes suicide. McGill University found that one-third – one-third – of college students who gambled on the internet ultimately attempted suicide. That is why the rate of suicide on our college campuses has doubled in the last ten years. Study after study has found that the most significant driver of that is addiction. The fastest-growing addiction is internet gambling.”
Word circulated on Monday that the latest study cited by Bachus was breaking news to researchers at McGill University. The campus in Montreal, Canada has become the center of a firestorm of controversy surrounding Congressman Bachus’ testimony, which was instrumental in the defeat of HR 5767 despite bi-partisan support by the Financial Services Committee’s Chairman and a Republican Presidential candidate.
McGill Professor Jeffrey L. Derevensky, who is on the Board of Governors of Youth Gambling International, spoke with PokerNewsDaily.com about Bachus’ statements. Although Derevensky mentioned that McGill University studies have looked at the rates of suicide among youths as well as the ill-effects of gambling overall, no study linking internet gambling and suicide has ever been conducted. He stated, “I am confident the Congressman doesn’t read research – he could not misinterpret this.” He added that McGill University has performed “no studies linking internet wagering and suicide.”
In the eyes of Derevensky, there are several effective ways to protect children from problem gambling. He stated that avenues to explore include “public awareness, prevention programs in schools, tighter regulations, and enforcement of regulations.” It’s interesting that Bachus would choose to quote a university who believes that regulation is a primary means to curb the problematic effects of internet gambling. The UIGEA essentially prohibits the industry from existing altogether, instead driving the action underground into a completely unregulated environment.
I asked Derevensky if the misunderstanding could have just been a case of Bachus or a staffer creating statistics in order to foster their cause. He answered, “I have no idea and don’t know how it got attributed to me.” He told the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative in a press release distributed on Monday that, “This assertion, which is reportedly based upon our empirical research, is not predicated upon any factual evidence.”
Initiative spokesperson Jeff Sandman agreed with Derevensky that the way to combat internet gambling issues among the world’s youth is to have effective regulation: “We are encouraged by the academic community’s support of internet gambling regulation. They emphasize the important point that consumers will be better protected if there are safeguards put in place to combat underage and problem gambling.”
Bachus’ press secretary, Marisol Garibay, did not comment on the report at press time.