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Online Poker News Archives - July 13, 2005

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Copyright 2005 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Copyright 2005 Pittsburgh Post - Gazette
Pittsburgh Post - Gazette

July 13, 2005, Wednesday

HEADLINE: More women are betting on online poker

BYLINE: By Mackenzie Carpenter

BODY:
At last, Hollywood B-actress and ubiquitous partygoer Jennifer Tilly has become known for more than her recent star turn in "Seed of Chucky." It turns out she is one heck of a poker player, beating out 600 players to win $ 158,625 in the Ladies no-limit Texas Hold 'Em event at the World Series of Poker last month.

But representatives of online gambling interests would like you to know that Tilly is something of an aberration in the mostly male world of poker tournaments in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. According to the folks at Sportsinteraction.com, women now outnumber men at so-called Internet casinos; they cite industry studies that show "many women prefer to double down while sitting at home in front of a PC."

Ever since the first online casino was launched in 1995, Internet gambling has grown exponentially, with estimated revenue of more than $ 6 billion a year and nearly 2,000 Web sites offering everything from sports betting, lotteries and blackjack to bingo. According to one industry study, 53 percent of those who gamble online rather than in casinos in the United States were female, and the numbers -- like those of women gamblers generally -- are growing.

"If you had a choice between dressing up and traveling to a casino only to breathe in cigarette smoke, drink watered-down cocktails and get hit on, or staying home in your bathrobe and having the same gambling experience, which would you choose?" e-mailed Alana Sorrentino, a New York public relations representative of Sportsinteraction.com.

Well, duh, said Meagan Cooper, 27, of Springfield, Pa., who was offered up by Sorrentino to answer the question. Cooper readily admitted that she prefers playing poker in her pajamas.

"Sometimes when I can't sleep, I just go online and play for a few minutes, and then go back to bed," she said. Plus, "I think for women, especially, it's a good way to learn the game."

While she has played in Atlantic City with her girlfriends and said she will continue to do so, Cooper said she finds that the testosterone-laden atmosphere of poker tournaments "can be intimidating."

"It's easier to bluff when you're online. ... At these poker games, you've got these people, men and women, wearing sunglasses, but playing on a computer, this way, it's your own form of sunglasses."

Online poker and other games of skill have become alternatives for women because they don't "have the same macho element, the same level of competitiveness and people butting heads as they do in a casino," added Anthony Munnelly, vice president of sports and events for Sportsinteraction.com.

At his Web site, a player downloads an application onto her computer, installs it and creates an interface that connects with other online "tables." At that point, the player can select how much she wants to gamble and can start to play.

"The technology has increased so much that it is now a very smoothly run operation," Munnelly said.

All of this comes as bad news to Diane Berlin of the Pennsylvania-based National Coalition to Ban Legalized Gambling, who says Internet gambling is "very scary" to begin with.

"Because it is so private, you can hide your losses even more easily than a trip to the casino or bingo hall, and people can be in extremely deep trouble before the family has any clue as to what is happening," she said.

For women, in particular, the risks are great, she said, noting studies that show men and women gamble for different reasons. "Action gamblers" tend to be men, in search of a "high" by playing games of skill like poker, blackjack or sports betting. Women, on the other hand, tend to be "escape" gamblers, attracted to games of chance like slot machines, video poker, lotteries or bingo, using gambling as a way to escape depression or physical or emotional pain.

"This is a very lonely person's activity," said Berlin of Internet gambling, "and maybe this is why many women are being lured into it."

Indeed, Christine Mooney, a 57-year-old Staten Island resident and devotee of Casino Fortune, another online site, admits she's had "a problem with gambling off and on."

Still, she says online betting is preferable, for two reasons. First, she's disabled, which makes travel to casinos difficult, and second, "I don't go wild. At a casino, you can get so carried away you run over to an ATM machine and unload your life's savings in the spur of the moment. You can't do that online."

The apparent public relations offensive to promote Internet gambling for women comes at a time when the legality of the practice is still being debated.

Most Internet gambling sites are based in Canada and the Caribbean, but officials at the U.S. Department of Justice say they're illegal, citing the U.S. Wire Act of 1961, which prohibits taking bets over the telephone and "wires," and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which banned sports wagering in all states except those with pre-existing operations -- Nevada, Oregon and Delaware.

Nonetheless, enforcement is difficult. Online bettors aren't targeted in their homes, while going after foreign online companies is difficult, officials acknowledge.

Legislation introduced in Congress banning the practice has gone nowhere. Further muddying the waters, a U.S. Appeals Court ruling found casino games to be legal but not online sports betting. Moreover, earlier this spring the World Trade Organization ruled that U.S. gamblers should be allowed access to offshore gambling casinos, claiming that U.S. federal and state laws prohibiting the practice breached international trade agreements.

Still, the WTO appeals panel said that some restrictions were necessary "to protect public morals and maintain public order." Since both U.S. law enforcement and Internet gambling officials interpreted that language as a win for them, the issue still appears to be unresolved.

Internet gambling operators, like Munnelly, insist that it's all above board.

"We're based in Canada and regulated out of Canada," he said, noting that his company's headquarters is located just outside of Montreal. "So our players are essentially betting in Canada."

Until the legalities get sorted out, representatives of casinos and their possible online competitors seem to be under some kind of uneasy truce.

Still Internet gambling will never replace casinos, said Holly Thomsen of the American Gaming Association, which represents the bricks-and-mortar part of the industry. People go to casinos for more than just gambling, she noted, such as for dining, shows, shopping and other diversions.

"Sitting in your living room playing online poker is a solitary activity, while visiting a casino is an inherently social activity, an entertainment activity," Thomsen said. "The social interaction and the energy of the environment lend a truly unique and exciting element to the experience that you just can't get from a computer screen."

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To see more of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.post-gazette.com. Copyright (c) 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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