Image via Real 3D Games
Right now, online gambling is technically illegal in the United States—a ban was put in place by Congress in 2006. But you probably know somebody who does it anyways, using one of the still-popular websites operated off US shores. Sites like Poker Stars boast hundreds of thousands of American members. But what if that ban were to be lifted? Democratic Rep. Barney Frank is currently working to do exactly that. If he succeeds, millions of online poker players could flock to the digital tables--and increased intensive Internet use nationwide would cause carbon emissions to skyrocket.To answer the question, we'll have to take a brief look at the history of online poker playing:
A Brief History of Online Poker
Around 2003, poker was seeing a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks in part to the fast paced variant Texas Hold 'Em, and the highly publicized victory of non-professional Chris Moneymaker in the World Series of Poker. Instead of honing his poker skills in shark-filled Las Vegas rooms and the pro circuit, Moneymaker had gotten his education somewhere far more accessible to the lay-poker player: the internet. Moneymaker won millions of dollars, and the PR for online poker set off a huge boom—by 2005, there were 15 million people registered in online poker rooms.
But in 2006, the industry saw a massive setback: the Republican majority in Congress instated a ban on online gambling in the US. Several of the most popular sites were taken down, moved overseas, or drastically restructured. As a result, many players gave up their accounts and stopped playing. Many feared that continuing to play may place them at risk.
Traffic for the poker sites has continued to decline since then—on a given day, Poker Stars has an average of 38,000 or so players, down from a 2007 high of 157,000. One online resource, MarketPulse, lists only around 4,000,000 active accounts today. The US was the online poker community's biggest market, after all.
Another Online Poker Boom?
But if it were made legal again, would we see another boom? It's certainly possible—poker is still extremely popular with 20-35 year olds; a demographic quite likely to play online. The lifted ban could lead to more widespread advertising for online poker, and more aggressive marketing in general. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine we'd soon hit that 15 million user mark again—which would mean a lot more people online, for longer periods of time: and a lot more electricity sucked down in the process.
Image via Shark and Fish
Online Poker and Carbon Emissions
Playing poker online is a time consuming venture—playing tournaments can take hours, and the programs make it extremely easy to play in multiple rooms while surfing the web between hands in different windows. In other words, it encourages parking yourself and sitting in front of the computer for hours.
As Pablo pointed out in his piece on the impact of internet use, computers generate between 40-80 grams of greenhouse gas emissions simply by being on (given the user gets his electricity from a coal-fired power plant, as most Americans do)—now imagine some 10 million more computers on for hours longer than before. It would add up to hundreds of thousands more tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Now take into account that the online program itself must process an intensive amount of information—a single Google search results in 1-10 grams of carbon emissions. So it's pretty safe to assume the servers supporting the online poker rooms would consume around that much per bet by each player—thousands of which could happen every minute.
On the other hand, the option of online poker may discourage some players from driving to casinos, which would cut back on carbon emissions from cars, providing at least a minor offset.
Of course, this is all speculative, and it's hard to say just how many users online poker rooms would attract if legalized. But we could very well see a surge of online poker players in coming years—and a rising cloud of carbon emissions along with it.
More on Internet and Carbon Emissions
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Solar Wi-Fi To Bring Internet to Developing Countries