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Online Poker News Archives - September 13, 2004

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Copyright 2004 The Columbus Dispatch
Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)

September 13, 2004 Monday, Home Final Edition

HEADLINE: HIGH STAKES; ONLINE POKER deals a risky hand as players participate in illegal games


   In the virtual world, there are no tells.

   No one can see opponents smoke cigarettes, wear mirrored sunglasses or fiddle with $100 chips. And the only poker faces that players see online are grainy 2-inch photos posted around the screen.

   Online poker is just an approximation of its real-world counterpart, but players of all ages log on in droves for an experience that is more accessible, more informative and less intimidating than a real-world game.

   "It's super convenient," said Annie Duke in a recent phone interview. Duke, who lives in Portland, Ore., is the top female money-winner in the history of the World Series of Poker.

   "You don't have to plan ahead to go to a game. You can play at more than one table at once, and you can get more hands per hour."

   She said that the help players can get through online record-keeping more than makes up for what is lost by not interacting with people live.

   But online gambling is still gambling, and it's illegal.

   U.S. laws that prohibit it haven't deterred Ohio State University graduate Brian Quinn, 25. The Virginia resident gambles daily, often before going to bed
-- once for six hours straight -- and occasionally when he awakens.

   He's lost thousands of dollars but has won even more at, and

   "I don't consider it gambling," he said. "It's a game of skill."

   For him, winning means he'll improve his chances to face his idol, player Phil Hellmuth, a nine-time winner of the World Championship of Poker.

   "It's amazing. I can be at the same table as (him) in three months if I win online. You could play a lifetime of baseball and never get the chance to take the field with Ken Griffey Jr."

   Quick and easy online play has bred a new generation of poker players.

   Chris Moneymaker, a 27-year-old accountant from Tennessee, gained a berth in the 2003 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas by winning on He more than recovered his $40 online-entry fee with the $2.5 million first-place purse.

   Reality poker shows and coverage by ESPN of the World Series of Poker tour are attracting millions of players and onlookers to the worlds of Texas Hold 'Em, seven-card stud and Omaha high-low.

   "People are saying, 'You know what, I can do this,' " Quinn said.

   While opportunities online are found easily, playing breaks many federal laws, including the 1961 Interstate Wire Act, an anti-racketeering law that bans the use of communications technology for placing wagers.

   But the U.S. Department of Justice's attempts to stop online gambling have been limited: Many operations are set up offshore, out of reach of U.S.

   "On the Internet, it's easy for the sellers (of porn, spam or gambling) to hide offshore," said Peter Swire, who teaches a course on the law and cyberspace at Ohio State University law school. "There is the idea of speedbumps: If you make something more difficult to use, then casual users won't do it. But it won 't stop the dedicated users."

   Online gambling revenues topped $600 million in 1998, 10 times as much as was reported in 1997.

   Nearly $126 million was won or lost during one 24-hour span this month, according to, a site that tracks worldwide poker activity. And this year, online gambling revenues could reach $7.6 billion, according to gambling-industry analyst Christiansen Capital Advisors.

   With prosecution of offshore operations difficult, U.S. authorities have lately been taking a new approach -- by going after the money. In June 2003, for example, U.S. authorities seized $3.2 million from Discovery Communications for displaying online casino ads on its cable-TV channels, which the justice department claims aids and abets illegal activities.

   Increased scrutiny of such advertising has caused Clear Channel, Infinity Broadcasting, Google and Yahoo! to stop running such ads.

   In Ohio, at the state and local level, players say they have a relatively free hand.

   The state attorney general's office has not taken any significant action to curb online gambling, spokeswoman Michelle Gatchell said.

   "I have not seen any state or local enforcement on the issue," said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien. "It needs to be uniquely addressed at the federal level because it involves interstate commerce."

   Most who gamble online don't know it's illegal.

   And for law-enforcement officials, the battle is partly a public-relations problem.

   "People see these ads for offshore books or whatever," said a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

   "And nowhere do they mention, 'By the way, it's illegal.' "

   Box Story:Internet gambling: what it means
* To you: Betting on sports, playing cards, bookmaking and other forms of gambling -- including those conducted online -- are illegal in Ohio. Betting is largely regulated by individual states.
* To betting operations: According to the Justice Department, offshore-wagering outfits are breaking the U.S. 1961 Interstate Wire Act, the Travel Act and other laws that forbid using phones and the Net to process gambling transactions.
/ Timeline
Key developments in online-betting operations and the legal fights against
* 1995: Internet Casinos Inc. and Casino City Inc. open online gambling casinos.
* 1998: Charges are brought against 21 U.S. citizens for owning or operating
Internet- and telephone-based betting operations. All were convicted, but some remain fugitives.
* February 2003: New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer signs an agreement with 10 major financial institutions to block credit-card transactions dealing with online gambling.
* June 2003: The U.S. Department of Justice begins investigating companies that sell ads to offshore Internet gambling companies. Letters are sent to media outlets warning them that "aiding and abetting" online gambling operations is illegal.
* March: In a case brought by Antigua and Barbuda against the United States, the World Trade Organization issues a preliminary ruling that U.S. laws outlawing Internet gambling violate global-trade rules.
* April: The Justice Department seizes $3.2 million from Discovery Networks.
The amount was for the cost of the ads that Discovery Networks ran on, operated by Tropical Paradise of Costa Rica. Bending to federal pressure, search engines Google and Yahoo! are among those companies that decline to accept ads for online-gambling operations.
* August: Casino City Inc., which runs, sues the Justice Department, saying that displaying ads for offshore Internet gambling sites is protected free speech.
Sources: Dispatch staff and wire reports

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