Gambling Online a risky business...
October 3, 2002 3:34 AM   Subscribe

Gambling Online a risky business... It is also big business. There are thousands of casinos out there, and the Vegas heavyweights are now starting to come on-line (though not for American players). The business has got its fair share of sharks and evil operators, but there's an awful lot of internet gamblers out there. A recent bill got through the House of Representatives outlawing on-line gaming in the US (though it probably won't get through the Senate to become law). Are any mefi's out there regular on-line gamblers? What do you think of current developments? The government says nuh-uh, but the players and the casinos say more tables! more slots! more spins!
posted by humuhumu (14 comments total)
I worked for three years at the original 'offshore' sports bookmaker (based in the UK, then all phone wagering). Virtually all our clients were US citizens and the business fought a constant low-level legal battle to circumvent laws in different states. eg. A state legislates to make calling an offshore bookmaker to place a bet illegal - we then invest in call-back technology so that the 'wager' call is inbound not outbound.

Even in the mid-nineties, with no web gaming and low-key US magazine advertising for publicity it was well worth the effort - within three years we employed over 300 people in the UK and on a 'tax-free' island, weekly turnover was regularly in 7 figures.
posted by niceness at 4:38 AM on October 3, 2002

Seeing as how the technology is not currently in place to monitor and/ or restrict online gambling, I wonder if this is not merely a means to implement more restrictive governmental control..

I'm surprised it's not being done in the name of homeland security....
posted by jazzkat11 at 4:59 AM on October 3, 2002

Legislation seeking to "protect people from their own choices" like this is absolutely ridiculous.

Gambling (in the proper sense of the word, i.e. dice games and roulette, not poker and blackjack which are skill-based games) is a waste of time and money, in my opinion, but people should be free to waste their time and money; that too is a side of individual liberty.
posted by dagny at 5:07 AM on October 3, 2002

Interestingly, most of the big-name casinos like MGM and Hard Rock, who have opened up in heavily-regulated places like the Isle of Man (no sarcasm there, they are heavily-regulated because these casinos want a good reputation) employ many different ways to monitor who is signing up with them, and to stop people they don't want - ie, people from countries where internet gambling is illegal. So, they check addresses, check credit cards, check bank account details. If casinos like MGM want a future doing this, they have to show regulators in the US (who may at some point approve what they're doing) that they can control their operations. They have to do it by the book and as legitimately as possible, or their reputation is gone.
posted by humuhumu at 5:07 AM on October 3, 2002

not poker and blackjack which are skill-based games

Poker and blackjack may be skill-based games, but you still can't beat the house at them. Even playing a perfect count-based strategy, you're going to come out, in the long run, down. Unless you can cheat. And for land-based casinos, counting is cheating. And for on-line casinos, counting doesn't (ahem) count, because they 'shuffle' the pack after every hand of BJ or poker.
posted by humuhumu at 5:11 AM on October 3, 2002

i always thought black jack was the only game whose odds favoured the gambler rather than the house. In any case serious poker and blackjack players are not really gamblers are they? they are more gamers. gamblers are the rouletter table players and the one arm bandit players, people who know they are being screwed over but still cant help themselves. i've known alcoholics and i've known gamblers and the latter is far far worse.
posted by carfilhiot at 5:17 AM on October 3, 2002

humuhumu: Poker and blackjack may be skill-based games, but you still can't beat the house at them. Even playing a perfect count-based strategy, you're going to come out, in the long run, down.

Part of having a good strategy is knowing when to quit, ya know. So yes, you can indeed beat the house playing these games, and many do, bigtime. Eventually, many of the big winners tend to end up in photo databases and get kicked out of casinos, though, as you rightly point out.

carfilhiot: i've known alcoholics and i've known gamblers and the latter is far far worse.

Agreed, but I still hold that legislation is not the way to stop them. Legislation should always target the initiation of force, something addiction is not, as sad as it though may be.
posted by dagny at 5:26 AM on October 3, 2002

Well, you can 'beat the house' in poker because you're actually playing against other players, with the house taking a cut. It's still not a pure game of skill, though...luck plays an important role.

As far as blackjack, the house odds always kick in over a few hundred hands and you always lose, but you of course can win in the shorter term.

I've never understood the allure of online gambling. The interaction with people and the fun of the casino itself is the big attraction of gambling for me.
posted by Phaedrus at 5:43 AM on October 3, 2002

I used to do tech support for a online casino in 1998. The thing is you can run a large number of casinos with not a large increase in manpower as everything is automated.

Last time I checked with a friend who still worked there (about 2 years ago), they had doubled manpower (mainly marketing, tech support and most importantly in credit fraud) but had grown from 5 to 25 online casinos.
posted by PenDevil at 5:58 AM on October 3, 2002

Has anyone here gambled online? And enjoyed it?
posted by Ljubljana at 6:05 AM on October 3, 2002

I'm one of the fortunate few who can honestly claim to have been a professional online gambler and made a profit at it. I actually only retired two months ago. There is a way to beat the online casinos, but they've made it more difficult as of late.

To get attention, online casinos offered bonuses to sign up. You deposit $100, they give you $100 more. The catch is that you have to wager $2000. (200 $10 hands of Blackjack for example). In the long run, Blackjack is a losing game, but played with perfect strategy, you only lose 1% of what you wagered, so in this particular example, you would start with your $100, get $100 more, and then lose $20 on the wagering, leaving you at $180. So that puts you at a free $80.

Casinos have wised up to this, and nowadays a good deal is hard to find. Bonus amounts have fallen through the floor while wagering requirements have shot through the roof, making most deals unprofitable in the long run. That's when I decided to get out.

Even though I've made a great deal of money out of it, and even though I am a libertarian, I think the government is right to try to outlaw internet gambling with offshore casinos, unless they can find a way to regulate it and guarantee the safety of the consumer. The majority of these operations are crooks, plain and simple. On several occasions, I've lost more than a thousand bucks when a casino offers a great bonus, everyone throws their cash in, and then they disappear without a trace. I know people that have lost over ten grand at a closing casino. They know nobody is going to run off to Antigua to track them down, and even if you did, what would you do. Neither the U.S. nor Antiguan government is going to have much sympathy for you.

Organizations like the Online Players Association (OPA) help with that kind of thing by offering lists of recommended casinos and blacklisting the crooks. But it still doesn't matter, because a highly rated casino that's not making good money can just offer a great bonus and then bail. There's nothing that anybody can do about it.

I'm kind of sad to see it go. I made a lot of money, and it was fun some of the time. (Other times, it was pure drudgery. Playing blackjack with basic strategy requires zero thought. You look at the cards, you look at the chart, you press the appropriate button).

My advice to you, do NOT gamble online. Most operations are shady at best. We've dealt with operations that are flat out rigged and those that just disappear with our money.

If you need to get a gambling fix, first thing to do is read up on the games at The Wizard of Odds, a UNLV statistics professor's attempt at educating the world on gambling, then go to Vegas, Atlantic City, Tunica, or any other of the multitude of gambling havens in the US, and play smart games with small bets. You're still going to lose your money, but at least in Vegas they'll get you drunk and smile while they take it.
posted by AaRdVarK at 8:24 AM on October 3, 2002

I'm going to go through with a few quick hits here to answer previous posts:

I'm surprised it's not being done in the name of homeland security....

Actually, homeland security is one of the justifications. If you look at the bill, you'll see that they are not outlawing Internet gambling. They can't do that because all these casinos are offshore. The bill "bars the use of credit cards, wire transfers, checks and potentially any other transaction that involves a financial institution for online betting." Lots and lots of cash move through these casinos. I wouldn't be surprised if a good bit of these casinos actually lose money, but are simply fronts for international money laundering schemes. With a lot of these casinos, you can deposit with a credit card, have the money sent back to PayPal, deposit from PayPal to another casino, have the money sent back to you as a check, and on and on. I am sure they have made the argument that this web of transactions could be used to funnel cash to terrorist cells in the U.S.

not poker and blackjack which are skill-based games

Poker is definitely a skill-based game, and it can be very profitable as such. The difference between your average poker player and a profitable poker player is a great deal of discipline and experience. The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky is an excellent first step for the person who plays in a regular game with his friends, to turn himself into a shark. It's a pretty decent read and will really change the way you view the game.

Blackjack played with basic strategy is still a losing game. You lose very slowly, however. In order to turn it into a winning game, you need to learn to count cards. Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong is a good place to start to do that. It's not nearly as easy as it sounds when you first read it, so don't quit your day job.

I've never understood the allure of online gambling. The interaction with people and the fun of the casino itself is the big attraction of gambling for me.

No joke. Nothing compares to Vegas. Go there, sit at a $5 table, play all night for $100, have the cocktail waitresses bring you drinks all night long, and get comped a buffet while you're at it. Costs just as much as a night out, and you had a great time with your pals.
posted by AaRdVarK at 8:46 AM on October 3, 2002

Poker is definitely a skill-based game

Legally speaking, that's inaccurate (same with blackjack). A "skill-based" game is something like chess, where all the pieces and possible moves are known by both players at all times. All card games are dependent on the chance that is inherent in the randomness of the cards dealt. Yes, there can be an awful lot of skill in certain card games, but that can be made redundant by the element of chance.
posted by lowlife at 6:06 PM on October 3, 2002

Thanks for all that, AaRdVarK. A great deal of wisdom and experience in what you say. Interesting to note that some of the new casinos from the Vegas people (like MGM for instance) are offering land-based bonuses - deposit $500 or something with us, and we'll give you a free night at the MGM Grand next time you're in town. Can't say I've ever been or will ever go to Nevada, but that's a new way of attracting people in. And heck, they comp people rooms and other stuff all the time, so it's not going to break their back.
posted by humuhumu at 12:53 AM on October 4, 2002

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