From traditional betting on horses, sports, or a wide variety of casino games, to betting on the length of the Iraq war - all can be readily found on the Internet. That's despite the fact that most states prohibit online betting and gaming operations.
Estimates of the money spent worldwide on Web gambling exceed $6 billion, with Americans constituting almost half the estimated 12 million players. A 1997 study showed 1 in 20 US college students is addicted to Web gambling.
Fortunately, Congress appears more inclined to do something about this rapidly growing problem. New bills in the House and Senate would ban banks, credit-card companies, and some online payment services from processing transactions to gambling sites to help curb the spread.
But enforcing such laws in the Internet's global virtual environment will be difficult. Many gambling sites are run by American expatriates in places where gambling rules are more relaxed than in the US, such as the Caribbean. Operators of sites elude detection by shifting Web locations.
International cooperation will be needed to fight this phenomenon. That's not easily secured, especially where gaming remains legal, as in much of Europe and Asia. And those determined to collect wagers from would-be betters online no doubt will turn up new ways to avoid new rules. Many Americans already use debit cards issued by foreign banks to skirt the law.
Still, passing an anti-Internet gambling bill with at least some teeth should serve to help temper those tempted to bet illegally online.