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Students Find Ways Around Online Gambling Laws

The Guardian:

May 21, 2007 — (U-WIRE) COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Despite legislation passed in Congress last fall banning credit card, check and electronic fund transfers to gambling sites, student gamers show no sign of folding. Instead, they are finding ways around the new legislation through underground sites and alternative payment methods.

Freshman business major Mark Ioli got his start on the professional Magic Card circuit at age 16. He used his $6,000 winnings from the collectible fantasy card game to jump-start his poker career and now makes an average of $20,000 a semester gambling online.

"It's fun because it's a rush," Ioli said. "I never know what's going to happen. I like that. It's a high."

While he sinks most of the cash into the stock market, Ioli splurges the rest of the money on expensive alcohol, vacations and treating his friends to dinner.

This summer he plans to set up his operation in an office in his house with four computer screens and friends to help out at $10 an hour.

"I like waking up every day not knowing if I'm going to be worth more or less money," Ioli said.

Online gambling continues in part because enforcement has not officially been put in place. It is expected that official rules will be enacted later this year resulting in stricter enforcement of the laws.

Still, when legislation first passed, banning money transfers to gambling sites, avid gamblers like Ioli were shocked and have scrambled to find ways of coping.

Freshman Joel Bidnick was afraid for his gambling future because he uses his winnings to substitute what would otherwise be income from a part-time job.

"I was terrified initially," Bidnick said. "If they were going to do away with online gambling completely, it would cost me a lot of money."

Students quickly pooled their knowledge to find ways around the new rules, switching from major sites like PartyPoker.com, which now blocks all U.S. players, to sites like Bodog.com, Pokerstars.com and Fulltiltpoker.com. Instead of directly transferring money from bank accounts to the gambling sites, students are forced to use other payment methods, including Western Union, CVS cards, Visa check cards, FedEx checks or even phone deposit cards in place of credit.

According to Bidnick, PokerStars.com will even send you a debit card to use on their site. In desperate circumstances, the website also offers a one-time-use-only scheme in which gamers adopt the name of a Puerto Rican counterpart to whom they then send the necessary money.

"It's sketchy, but it was the only way for a while," Bidnick said.

According to Michael Osborne, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center in Baltimore, credit card companies are even making transactions look legitimate by recording them with generic titles on credit card bills.

That way it is impossible to tell if the card was used at an online gambling site. The new methods, however, slow down the process - sometimes taking as long as a month and a half for students to cash out, where before, the maximum was five days.

Osborne, who has expressed alarm at the growing number of young people addicted to gambling online, reports no decrease in the number of college-age students seeking treatment. If anything, he says, there has been an increase.

"The online gambling ban is nothing but a farce," Osborne said.

However, the River City Group, a key organizer of marketplaces for business-to-business services in i-gaming, insists the number of players and sites have declined after the law was passed, according to the director of publishing Mark Balestra.

"The main change is that larger companies have stopped targeting U.S. players," he said.

According to Sue Schneider, the president and CEO of the River City Group, the projected revenue for 2007 went down by $4.4 billion after the legislation was passed. Without regulations in place at this point, students show no sign of quitting any time soon.

"I don't think I'll ever stop playing poker," Ioli said. "I'll play until I can't see. After school I plan to play poker, get a job on the stock market for five years, then retire and take my wife and travel the world."

admin – Tue, 2007 – 05 – 22 10:14