What can the oldest profession learn from the liberalisation of gaming?

Is there an irresistible case for the practical implementation of the liberalisation of the gambling and sex worker industries?

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A happier, safer, better world?
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David Atherton
On 16 July 2012 09:44

Mormon Democrat Senate Leader Harry Reid comes from Searchlight, Nevada – a town with thirteen brothels and no churches. Understandably there are laws which restrict the toleration of prostitution near schools and so when one offending brothel was discovered to be too close to the first graders, they shut it down and moved it. The school, that is. 

Donna Asutaitis, an MSC student, made £300,000 in two years, working as a call girl in Knightsbridge. Her main offence seems to be she did not pay her taxes.

In front of a worldwide family TV audience, Pius Heinz won $8,715, 638 to become the World Series Poker Champion in Las Vegas. On April 15th, 2011, Full Tilt Poker and other online poker operators had their .com domain seized by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as part of a series of indictments of the sites' owners and employees. On June 29th, 2011, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission suspended the license of Full Tilt Poker.

Such is the mixed news from the USA and the UK on personal lifestyle preferences and the desire of hypocritical moralizers and bumbling interfering politicians. It seems that Ms Asutaitis was working alone, web advertising her services and working legally. The income tax evasion seems just a spiteful attempt to impose the state’s values on consenting adults. She is hardly Al Capone.

The closure of Full Tilt was based on a last minute amendment to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed on September 29th, 2006 which illegalized the transfer of funds by financial institutions to on-line gaming sites. However “off track” betting at American race courses on the internet and live poker remained legal.

In an astonishing case of bottom clenching double standards and naked protectionism, most poker sites are based in the British Channel Islands or the Isle of Man low tax havens. One year later the lawsuits are flying around and whether players receive their deposits or winnings remains open to doubt.

Prostitution and gambling have for the most time not enjoyed the approval of most people. Sometimes they have a point. Ever since Wild Bill Hickok was shot dead in Saloon 10 in South Dakota in 1876, holding an apocryphal two pair, Aces and Eights, has been known as the Dead Man's Hand. One of the living legends of today's poker, Doyle 'Texas Dolly’ Brunson, once sat next to a player who was shot dead.

Even Las Vegas, discovered in 1829 by Mexican Rafael Rivera and built on the 1890 railroad and the Hoover Dam, reluctantly, in sympathy with many American States, made gambling illegal on October 1st 1910.

Not to be outdone, the underground gambling industry flourished and, like Alcohol Prohibition, a secret password was needed to get in. However Nevadan rancher Phil Tobin had the law over turned in 1931. Organized crime was driven out by Harry Reid when he was head of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981. The inaugural World Series of Poker began in 1970 at Binion’s Horseshoe won by Johnny Moss.

The image as Las Vegas as the gaming world’s capital for a family holiday remains undiminished. Economically 43 percent of Nevada’s tax revenue comes from gambling.

I can thoroughly recommend Dr. Patrick Basham and Dr. John Luik’s book: “Gambling - A Healthy Bet.”  They found that “Gamblers are more sociable, gamblers are more neighborly, gamblers are more involved in community activities, and gamblers are more likely to give to charity than their non-gambling peers. Those are the consistent findings of studies commissioned by the British, American, and Swedish governments, respectively.”

Of course there are addicted, problem gamblers. Andy McLellan, the Chief Executive of GamCare, in a debate hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs on March 30th 2011, quoted a rate of 0.7 percent. GamCare employs a commendably light touch approach, where they say, “We do not wish to restrict the choices or opportunities for anyone to operate or engage in gambling opportunities that are available legally and operated responsibly.”

All poker sites I play on promote responsible gambling and offer self-exclusion periods and limits for depositing money. In Las Vegas hosts are trained to spot gamblers losing their mortgages and shirts too.

On sex workers and prostitution, the academic work of Dr. Belinda Brooks-Gordon, a Reader in Psychology and Social Policy at Birkbeck, University of London, is an eye opener for the right reasons. She has found very little coercion, nearly all are consenting. Dr. Brooks-Gordon’s book The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy and Society is a must read.

For confirmation, 55 police forces in the UK took part in operation Pentameter 1 to track down trafficked women working in prostitution. Out of an estimated 80,000 sex workers, 88 or 0.11 percent were victims. The illegalization of customers and punters drives it underground or onto the streets where the workers are far more vulnerable, especially to violence. The ability to control sexually transmitted diseases diminishes too.

Various countries have tried a mixture of decriminalization and legalization with positive results. The Netherlands, Nevada in some counties, New Zealand and New South Wales, and Australia have done the ‘dirty deed.’

New Zealand, in 2003, passed the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA). The conclusions by the New Zealand's law review committee found that "over 90% of sex workers in each sector felt that they have legal rights under the PRA as regards violence”. A significant minority thought that there had been an improvement since the enactment of the PRA. Of those feeling in a position to comment, the majority felt sex workers were now more likely to report incidents of violence to the Police.

Meanwhile the University of New South Wales, on March 23rd 2012,  published their paper titled “Sex work in NSW: healthiest in the world” and concluded “Jurisdictions that try to ban or license sex work always lose track as most of the industry slides into the shadows. Prostitution laws are the greatest allies of the exploiters.” Also “Decriminalisation of the industry in 1995 led to a dramatic reduction in police corruption and sex worker exploitation.”

While I am sure that some people have sincere views on the morality of gambling and prostitution, the irresistible case for the practical implementation of the liberalisation of the gambling and sex worker industries makes for a happier, safer, and better world.

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking

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