Online Gambling Goes Underground

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"I think it is going to be costly to enforce," says Johnston. "This is not like terrorism where you can police it with a list of names and organizations you need to watch for. You can write a computer program figuring that out. This is more multifaceted and complicated."

But even if the U.S. cracks down on e-wallets, other payment options could be used. Catania says some e-wallets have begun accepting payments from phone cards. The users just load the card with money, open an e-wallet account with the funds, and then start gambling. When they want to cash out, they have the e-wallet send a check from a recognized financial institution that is then deposited in their account. "The easiest way to track money is to allow the credit card companies to take the bets online—this only makes it more anonymous" says Catania. Keith Furlong, deputy director of the Interactive Gaming Council, says he sees other shadier organizations getting into the act as well. "It will go a step further so that there will be some kind of e-cash product that will not be auditable, harder to trace, and make the movement of money much more difficult to follow."

Deterring Newbies
U.S. politicians say they are aware that the act won't stop the gamblers determined to bet. But they are hopeful that it could deter those only now getting involved because it is so easy to "click a mouse, bet the house." Without more casual gamblers, less money will go to offshore accounts in general. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who initially sponsored the legislation, says the bill adds a necessary hurdle to sending money to foreign casinos. "It will make it harder to get the money out of the country, but not impossible," he says.

However, depending on how the bill is implemented, it may not be that much more difficult. After all, online gamblers already had to have e-wallet accounts set up in order to gamble. "Dr. Pauly," for one, is betting that the law won't stop many. "It will be a nuisance, but if one site goes down a new one will pop up," says McGuire. He compares it to the illegal poker clubs in Manhattan that are closed down by police just to reopen in a new apartment building several weeks later. The night before PartyPoker stopped accepting U.S. bets; McGuire received an e-mail about a new New York club willing to take in some of the ousted players on an invitation-only basis. "One of the poker clubs goes down, another one will come up," says McGuire. "I have no intentions of stopping."


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