By Michael Millstein

 

Throughout most of American history, both cryptocurrency and the gaming industry respectively have endured copious amounts of scrutiny and uncertainty from the public. In fact, in an effort to eradicate gambling from society, then U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy put forth great efforts into enacting the Federal Wire Act, utilizing the government’s interstate commerce power to outlaw gambling.[1] Fast forward to 1992, the government enacted the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which prohibited state or government entities from permitting sports wagering.[2] Now, in 2021, sports betting is legal in 24 states, and other types of traditional gambling are legal in all but two states: Utah and Hawaii.[3] This trend of public acceptance and engagement with time has also seeped into the world of cryptocurrency.[4] In 2015, PwC conducted a survey in which only 6% of respondents claimed they were very familiar with cryptocurrency.[5] Currently, over 14% of Americans own and trade with cryptocurrency.[6] As a result, with both industries growing at rapid speed, the opportunity to combine the two into a business model presents endless lucrative possibilities.[7]

Coupling the 14% of Americans who own cryptocurrency and the 49% of Americans who engage in gambling, a major question for casinos and other gaming industry giants is what the overlap between those numbers is.[8] For example, if only 5% of the crypto-crowd engages in gambling, could the decision for casinos to expand their platforms, allowing in-person and/or online gambling with cryptocurrency, reel in the other 9% of that market? With cryptocurrency gambling only fully legal and integrated within Curacao and the UK, the first US casino to explore this world could potentially sweep up the entire crypto market and be flooded with even more consumers.[9] Not only does this present an excellent financial opportunity for those in the gaming industry, but also for crypto-giants such as Bitcoin. By engaging in a partnership with any gaming platform, consumers may feel inclined to purchase more of that specific coin in order to use it for gaming purposes.

Though the potential for financial success rouses the senses, combing a poorly moderated form of currency with gambling could lead to a plethora of legal problems. Much of why gambling was outlawed in the United States, aside from religious purposes, stems from the criminal activity frequently associated with it.[10] During the 1940’s-60’s, Las Vegas earned its nickname as “Sin City” due to its wild-west tendencies.[11] The mafia and other high level criminals used Las Vegas as their headquarters for their illegal activities.[12] Similarly, cryptocurrency has experienced much of the same trouble, as traders have used cryptocurrency for illegal purposes such as drug trafficking.[13] What makes cryptocurrency an even bigger concern for crime than gambling, is the lack of an arena in which to contain the activity. While most traditional gambling occurs in casinos, cryptocurrency trading occurs online, where preventing crime is marginally more difficult.[14] As the surge of online gambling opportunities rapidly increases in unison with the popularity of cryptocurrency (and the lack of an ability to police it), the gaming industry in America must soon evaluate the risks and rewards of limitless profits and inevitable crime.[15]

As the likelihood of this intersection increases with time due to popularity, acceptance, and prospective financial gain, a whole new set of legal professionals may be needed in order to combat the inevitably ensuing crime wave.[16] The essence of the matter boils down to the question not of whether the legal system can keep pace with the intertwinement of these two industries, but rather what types of protections are available, and if going down this path is worth it.

 

[1] Brett Smiley, A History of Sports Betting in the United states: Gambling Laws and Outlaws, Sportshandle (Nov. 13, 2007), https://sportshandle.com/gambling-laws-legislation-united-states-history/.

[2] Id.; see Jill R. Dorson, What is PAPSA, The Federal Ban on Sports Betting?, Sportshandle (July 1, 2020), https://sportshandle.com/what-is-paspa-sports-betting-ban-professional-amateur-sports/.

[3] Lou Cannon, Utah’s Gambling Referendum Sparks Emotional Debate in Mormon Zion, Wash. Post. (Aug. 19, 1992), https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1992/08/19/utahs-gambling-referendum-sparks-emotional-debate-in-mormon-zion/739ae2ad-acf5-4436-a89e-40b714d1bae8/.

[4] See generally Mindy Lowy et al., Money is no object: Understanding the evolving cryptocurrency market, PwC (Sept. 19, 2017), https://www.pwc.com/us/en/industries/financial-services/library/cryptocurrency-evolution.html (detailing how just a few years ago, a small, yet increasing, numbering of Americans were engaging with cryptocurrency).

[5] Id.

[6] Dawn Allcot, 14% of Americans Own Crypto Right Now: Who’s Actually Doing it Right, Yahoo (Apr. 21, 2021), https://www.yahoo.com/now/study-reveals-crypto-biggest-investors-132102315.html.

[7] Id.; Lowy, supra note 4.

[8] Lowy, supra note 4; Allcot, supra note 6; American Attitude on Casino Gaming 2019, American Gaming Association (Oct. 15, 2019), https://www.americangaming.org/resources/american-attitudes-on-casino-gaming-2019/.

[9] All You Need To Know About Gambling With Cryptocurrency, Great Bridge Links (2015), https://greatbridgelinks.com/all-you-need-to-know-about-gambling-with-cryptocurrency/.

[10] Cannon, supra note 3; see also Beata Pastwa-Wojciechowski, The relationship of pathological gambling to criminality behavior in a sample of Polish male offenders 669, 674 (2011) (exploring how indulging in gambling is correlated with theft offenses).

[11] See generally Sin City secrets: the incredible story of Las Vegas, Love Exploring (Sept. 2, 2020), https://www.loveexploring.com/gallerylist/99342/sin-city-secrets-the-incredible-story-of-las-vegas (providing a timeline of the history of Las Vegas, including its infamous criminal roots).

[12] Bo J. Bernhard et al, From Maverick to Mafia to MBA: Gaming Industry Leadership in Las Vegas from 1931 through 2007, 49 Cornell Hosp. Q. 177, 180 (2008); Dominik Stroukal et al., Bitcoin And Other Cryptocurrency As An Instrument Of Crime In Cyberspace 219, 220-21 (2016).

[13] Claire Nolasco Braaten et al., Convenience Theory of Cryptocurrency Crime: A Content Analysis of U.S. Federal Court Decisions, 42 J. Deviant Behavior 959, 959 (2019).

[14] Hyoun S Kim et al., Do Social Casino Gamers Migrate to Online Gambling? An Assessment of Migration Rate and Potential Predictors, 31 J. Gambling Studies 1819, 1826-1828 (2014); Phillip Larratt, Innovation and The Application of Knowledge for More Effective Policing 1, 2–3 (2017).

[15] Giannis Tziakouris, Cryptocurrencies – A Forensic Challenge or Opportunity for Law Enforcement? An INTERPOL Perspective, 16 Ieee Security and Privacy 92, 93 (2018); see Allcot, supra note 6.

[16] See, e.g., Lowy, supra note 4; Allcot, supra note 6; American Attitude on Casino Gaming 2019, supra note 8.

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