One-armed bandits roving cyberspace
IT has finally happened. Not only can Web fiends and addicts spend increasing sums of money just for the pleasure of surfing the Internet, but now they can also have the privilege of losing even more money while they do it.
On-line gambling has been sweeping its way across the Internet over the past few months. The latest addition to the genre is the announcement last week that a new lottery licensed by the Government of Lichtenstein is now on-line.
With a minimum purchase of two US$5 tickets, World-Wide Web users can now play for a jackpot of at least $1 million. The lottery adds a neat twist to lottery playing, with each ticket holder being able to enter a nomination for a favourite charity when he buys a ticket. This will help determine to which charity a portion of the proceeds of the lottery will go. Still, it is nothing more than any other form of gambling.
Lotteries like this may not seem so bad. But there is more to the growing world of on-line gambling which traverses national and state boundaries in ways that make it possible for people prevented from losing their money at home to lose it somewhere else in the world.
Right now there are several gambling games on the Web and other Internet media which allow users to play for fake electronic cash but that is rapidly changing as ways to conduct on-line financial transactions become more stable.
There is Virtual Vegas, which is being billed as 'a whole new concept of community entertainment' (http://www.virtualvegas .com/), which is found on the Web next to Global Casino (http://www.netaxs.com/ people/sportbet/casino .htm) and based in Antigua which promises on-line blackjack, craps, roulette and more - for real money.
From the same people bringing you the Global Casino there is also the International Sports Book server (http://www.netaxs.com/ people/sportbet/) for betting on sports; again for real cash.
There are other gambling ventures set up outside North America clearly aimed at North Americans who feel deprived of regular access to gambling unless they travel to Nevada. Belize-based Global Gaming Services offers WagerNet (http://www.vegas.com/ wagernet/) and Caribbean Casino (http://www.casino .org/cc) comes from St Maartens.
At first it may seem like on-line gambling of this sort is not that big a deal. But it should be worrisome. It is yet another abuse of the trans-border nature of the Internet which has brought the Internet under government scrutiny in several countries, including Singapore.
Until now, the concern has been primarily over cyperspace-based pornography which helped distribute pornographic images and files to countries where they were illegal. Now gambling is being delivered in much the same way. Not only is gambling dangerously addictive and capable of destroying lives, leaving them destitute, but with the added anonymity of the Internet it makes it easier for people to gamble excessively without the scrutiny of others; whether they are strangers or family.
On-line gambling raises a range of other questions. Gambling is an industry that in some parts of the world is associated with organised crime. There are concerns among some gamblers about cheating, either by the casinos themselves or by other players in certain games.
As an article in Internet World earlier this year pointed out, however, how do you believe a computer when it deals itself 21 in blackjack and you lose real money?.
To top it off, the questions of authentication come into play. How does a player know that he will really be paid when he wins if he knows nothing about the organisation sponsoring a site? So many questions. So little bandwidth. When will people learn? TIP OF THE WEEK: If you prefer the Vatican to Las Vegas, the Catholic Church now has its own on-line information centre at http://www. catholic.net/ which offers, among other things, position papers on subjects prone to misunderstanding, pictures of Jesus and interactive question and answer services.