Mike Ryan of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling has a beef. And it seems like a pretty good one. Why, he would like to know, is Virginia permitting horse-racing kiosks after it banned sweepstakes cafes?

The kiosks allow customers to bet on horse races from around the world — something Virginians have been able to do for several years on the Internet courtesy of EZ Horseplay, which is run by Colonial Downs. Now the EZ Horseplay kiosks are popping up in bars and clubs.

There seems to be little difference between using a computer to bet on a horse race and using a computer to bet on a software game that resembles slot machines or poker. That’s what sweepstakes cafes let customers do. Sweepstakes cafes have sprouted in states where gambling is illegal through dubious claims — e.g. , that customers aren’t buying turns at games of chance but Internet time, and that the games they play are no different from prize-dispensing sweepstakes such as those at fast-food chains. They were gaining ground in Virginia, too — until the cops raided several in Virginia Beach and the General Assembly passed legislation outlawing them.

Virginia’s approach to gambling has been wildly inconsistent. The state actively encourages people to play the lottery — which provides millions in revenue from a program that has been called a tax on people who can’t do math. The commonwealth has allowed wagering on horse races, both at the track and in OTB parlors. It casts a jaundiced eye on some other forms of gaming — though not sweepstakes, or raffles, or bingo, or gambling at charitable events. 
Yet fear of casinos appearing on tribal lands led to a long stalemate over the question of federal recognition for Virginia’s Indian tribes. Those of a conspiratorial bent might be inclined to wonder if the approval of this gambling forum or that depends chiefly on the likely beneficiary — the state itself, the politically connected, or those with less pull in the salons where the swells hang out.
Ryan would like to see a portion of the proceeds from gambling — lottery, horse-race or otherwise — devoted to helping problem gamblers get into recovery. Sounds good to us. We’d also like the state to take a more laissez-faire approach to the question of gambling in general. Most of those who visit sweepstakes cafes, racing kiosks, or lottery retailers do not have a gambling addiction; for many, the activity is an entertaining diversion. The commonwealth has no business telling them how they should spend their time and money, so long as they are not bothering anyone else — and certainly not as long as it is running a numbers racket. — RTD Staff

(Editor’s Note: Response to follow…)