It took a while, but new technologies are now ranked alongside nuclear war, ecological catastrophe and runaway asteroids as threats to the planet.

In their annual risk report released last month, the Global Challenges Foundation wrote that artificial intelligence and nanotechnology pose a threat to civilization. The long and short of it is advanced forms of artificial intelligence could lead to mass unemployment by making humans redundant and atomically precise manufacturing could put powerful arsenals in the hands of ill-intentioned groups or even individuals. When does all this come down the pike? I don’t know; I stopped reading there.

The report isn’t that far out there though. It focuses on a future where ease is turned against us. Anyone with an investment in a brick-and-mortar casino can relate. Casino gaming, in the U.S. at least, has traditionally been used to revive economies in out-of-the-way places. Technology, in the meantime, has made things exponentially less boring for people in out-of-the-way places, bringing more of the world within reach of their fingertips each day. More important, from the gaming industry’s standpoint, it has made the idea of physically travelling to out-of-the-way places a prerequisite for product access increasingly problematic.

It’s a battle. So when the question of Internet gaming comes up, and the opposition of some very powerful people within the brick-and-mortar segment, it’s very hard, for me at least, to reconcile increased ease of access with the desire to impose limits. The former is more close to nature.

But, hey, waving the white flag is exactly what the big minds are telling us not to do when it comes to the even more powerful technologies that are coming down the pike. Regulation, informed by something resembling enlightened public policy, is what survival will come down to in this day and age.

Fairness can and should be part of the equation. It’s not unreasonable for brick-and-mortar gaming operators, having invested significant sums in building and operating those facilities in out-of-the-way places, employing many thousands of people, meeting all regulatory requirements with integrity in the process and paying what many other businesses would consider to be exorbitant tax rates, to be granted privileged access to the interactive opportunity.

Things get a little pear-shaped though when licensed brick-and-mortar operators tell states and their citizens they shouldn’t have access to the interactive product, so that, a cynic might say, their aging mousetraps can be shielded from progress. Of course, that’s not the way they put it, and I wouldn’t question the sincerity of the opposition to online, in-home gaming when in the areas of problem and underage gambling. But they are engaged in a round-by-round grind where you can score what appear to be victories, while the world moves ahead anyway.

Dotties and Bettys, VLTs in bars and taverns, Internet cafes, fantasy sports…there’s a long and growing list of gaming and wagering alternatives to brick-and-mortar casinos, and much of it is brick-and-mortar based and not insubstantial. A white paper prepared by David O. Stewart of Ropes & Gray for the AGA places the annual revenue of Internet sweepstakes cafes at $10 billion, a very substantial figure.

These cybercafes are not regulated or taxed and have been banned in a number of states, but those who operate them are not deterred, calling for legalization and regulation, as in the state of Colorado, which is again pondering legislation that would outlaw them. But that $10 billion figure is telling you something: people go there because they’re there, and easier to get to than places up the mountain in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek. The reality of access is impossible to deny, and a logical way around it is for licensed casino operators to press for relief in the interactive space, where they can gain the business of people they’re very often bound to lose anyway.

 

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