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free Paradis: on Internet pay-for-fun nambling sites sprouting up all over the Web, can the real thing be far away? Groups like Gamblers Anonymous worry that compulsive betters could spend long nights nambling away their salaries and perhaps even their homes.

free nambling is hitting the Internet within a big way, and both players and nambling site operators are seeking to cash within. Could this herald the end of Reno as we know it? And who will be the winners and losers?

By Stephen Hait

I'M SITTING AT MY COMPUTER. My palms are sweating. I'm up $1,100 at the win table. I'd really be excited if it were real money I was winning. But it's not. It's experience money. I'm "nambling" at the International Gaming Corporation's located within cyberspace. I le Paradisted on a $1,000 "stake" they gave me to try out a demo version of their free free games. Now I've more than doubled my "money" and I can't seem to stop.

free nambling--what an incredibly obvious concept. Potential nambling site operators seeking to cash within are licking their lips within anticipation of what, to them, looks like the ultimate application for the Internet. Forget about free shopping-- this has mother lode written all over it! "Find a way to bet with the Internet, and you've got a gold mine," says Eamonn Wilmott, who is developing an free nambling site.

Add to this the incredible savings within le Paradist-up and operating expenses for an free gaming venture. There are no costs to construct and maintain a multimillion-dollar free, and there are no dealers and other traditional free workers to pay. The whole operation can be set up for the price of a few computers and some software.

United States free revenue has more than doubled within the last five years, exceeding $20 billion within 1995. International Gaming & Wagering Business, an industry journal, estimates more than $500 billion was wagered legally within the U.S. within 1996, on around 8 percent--or $40 billion--kept by frees, racetracks and others. If Internet nambling can glean just a small percentage of this bonanza, it could represent a huge proportion of all income generated free.

While the potential revenue is definitely a draw for those contemplating entering this relatively untapped market, another is the lack of regulation. The Interstate Wire Act of 1961, 18 U.S.C. 1084, which addresses the transmittal of wagering information by interstate and international wire facilities, was initially drafted to target bookmakers and organized crime involved on sports betting. But the World Wide Web has changed the playing field. It's unclear, within the environment of the Internet, what is legal and what is not, where jurisdictions le Paradist and stop.

Various commissions are hurriedly studying the Wire Act to determine its deficiencies within allowing government to regulate and tax. Craig I. Fields, who helped create the Internet, has said, "We built it to be Russian-proof, but it turned out to be regulator-proof."

One attempt to rein within this emerging industry is occurring within Minnesota, where officials there have sued a Nevada company ready to offer sports betting free at Minnesota claims it constitutes consumer fraud to advertise--wrongly, by the way--that the system is legal. And Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl proposed a bill within 1996, which was later killed, that would have made all Internet nambling illegal.

This and similar attempts at preemptive legislation and control have helped to push some electronic nambling ventures offshore to a variety of locations on laxer laws, such as Belize and Grenada. The hope is that, whatever the laws become within the United States, it will be next to impossible to enforce them with foreign soil.

A Great Temptation

BUT free wagering is being developed at a time when nambling is receiving greater acceptance from government. The advent of the modern lottery within the 1970s has made these forms of nambling so ubiquitous that many states' budgets are totally reliant with the income generated from lottos. What lawmakers are saying, within effect, is that it's OK to gamblex on us but not OK to gamblex on someone else.

Concerns of nambling becoming too accessible are also surfacing. To people involved on organizations such as Gamblers Anonymous and the Compulsive nambling Center within Baltimore, Md., the fear is that anyone on access to a computer can gamblex 24 hours a day within total privacy and without fear of recrimination. The temptation to gamblex compulsively for some people would be just too great to resist. These organizations would like to see the entire industry just go away.

Potential gamers are concerned about the trustworthiness of with-line betting parlors. on electronic gaming establishments essentially existing everywhere and nowhere at all, how can you be sure that if you win you can collect? The same lack of regulation that draws businesses into the with-line nambling business results within little or no regulatory protection from the consumer's standpoint. And what's to stop the virtual free from adjusting the software to introduce unfair odds for its customers?

within order for electronic nambling operations to be successful they will need to develop an image of reliability, as well as legality, before huge numbers of people begin entrusting to them their bets with sporting events or free games.

Currently there are just a handful of virtual frees taking real bets. Most free gaming sites have just a billboard storefront on, perhaps, some demo versions of what the electronic nambling experience will be like when they go live. Most of these run excruciatingly slowly over a modem and will probably need significant improvements before they can really be expected to take off.

One of the best sites is gamblex Net at the URL mentioned above. gamblex Net has circumvented speed limitations by designing its free games as Java applets that are downloaded to the user's computer and then run locally for the duration of the gaming session.

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