Digital Life

Online Gambling, Illegal in U.S., Attracting Millions

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Internet poker has surpassed sports betting as the most popular form of online gambling — an industry that now takes in as much as $10 billion a year. There's one catch: playing online poker — for money — is illegal in the United States.


More and more Americans are betting on their computers, playing poker online. It's now the most popular form of Internet gambling, an industry that now takes in as much as $10 billion per year. Just two years ago, sports wagering was the most popular form of online gambling, but nowadays, poker is king. David Schwartz of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, of course, says nearly two million players compete online every day.

Mr. DAVID SCHWARTZ (University of Nevada-Las Vegas): Some of them are risking quite a bit of money and some of them are using it as a way to make a living, which is really surprising. You've got people who basically work at like a job where they play online poker for eight, 10 or 12 hours a day and maybe the bets themselves aren't that big but cumulatively they're able to make a living at it.

INSKEEP: There is one catch. Playing online poker for money is illegal in the United States. One casino operator is trying to find a way around that prohibition. Connecticut's Foxwoods Casino rolled out a game that it said was technically not online gambling but regulators said it was. And the casino shut it down, at least for now. Virtual poker halls offshore have had much less trouble since they're beyond the reach of the government. And American poker players are almost never prosecuted. Anthony Cabot is a Las Vegas attorney specializing in gambling law.

Mr. ANTHONY CABOT (Attorney): Initially, when the Internet started, a number of the states took a strong interest in Internet gambling. The problem is is that, let's say, for example, you have a company operating out of Costa Rica. It becomes practically impossible for a state to initiate any type of enforcement action against a non-US company.

INSKEEP: Now some people would like to see those laws change in the US, but poker.coms stand to profit. In late June, the Gibraltar-based company PartyGaming went public on the London Stock Exchange and its shares have since increased by 40 percent. At that Las Vegas Center for Gambling Research, David Schwartz says casinos are not too worried about losing business to people who stay at home, betting in their underwear, because casinos are adding tables to their poker rooms. More people are playing in person, as well as online.

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