Cash in your chips
For Losers:The one armed bandit

The dogs are in their traps, the horses are champing at their bits and the roulette wheel is spinning - but is it spinning out of control? We look at the rise of gambling on the internet

Money, it seems, features in more cliche's than just about anything except sex- 'take the money and run', 'money talks', 'money doesn't grow on trees' and, particularly relevant to gambling, 'a fool and his money are soon parted'. The pending lift-off of web-based business, also known as e-commerce, has upped the ante and made it nigh on inevitable that one of the oldest forms of organised entertainment would make its presence felt online.

One new internet casino has reported taking bets worth £4.5m in its first month. The casino is called GalaxiWorld and its parent company GLC has seen its stock rise by 30 per cent. Clearly, gambling and the web go together like peaches and cream, Tom and Jerry, and Morecambe and Wise all rolled into one.
The Galaxiworld casino, although by no means the first to go digital, is just one of many that can be found with a simple search of the world wide web. There is now a breathtaking variety of betting games on offer via your modem - some intriguing, some familiar, others downright banal. The one thing all these services have in common is that they have been set up to make a profit. Naturally, opinions are divided on whether they offer the ordinary punters at home yet another hole to pour their money into or simply an enjoyable way to use late-20th century technology.

The choice is yours
As responsible adults, we all have to make decisions for ourselves every day - online gambling is just another opportunity to exercise choice. When it comes to making an informed decision, most of the gaming websites make it clear that it is up to us. World Gaming's disclaimer, for example, says: "It is impossible for us to determine the state of the law in every country around the world on an ongoing basis.

John Gibson

'People forget ...the odds are astronomical and pin their hopes on getting lucky' Reader - John Gibson

"Therefore, by clicking the 'I agree' button, you are acknowledging that you have determined what the laws are in your jurisdiction, and that it is legal for you to place a bet via the internet."
Without UK laws specifically designed to regulate online gambling, dawn raids on e-gamblers seem unlikely. However, in the UK it is illegal to run websites that feature casino games, as any such establishment requires a licence. Players must be physically within the licensed premises when gambling - rather difficult in a world of zeros and ones.
Gambling is a personal choice - that's the bottom line. We asked two Computeractive readers and a former gambling addict about their personal choices...

The price you can't afford to pay
A spokesman for Gamblers Anonymous, we'll call him Patrick, fears that the more acceptable and accessible gambling becomes, the greater the danger to those who can't control their desire for a little more than a flutter. Patrick hasn't placed a bet for more than seven years but sees the growth of both the lottery and online gambling as merely increasing access to excess.

"Although we [Gamblers Anonymous] have no official opinion on outside issues, I feel that gambling is more accessible, it is seen as socially acceptable. We all have more exposure to it, especially through the lottery and now the internet. It's very easy to come home and go online for an evening's gambling.
"Since the nature of the web means that it is unregulated and easy to access, people can soon find that their credit cards are eaten up by bets which they might not have made otherwise. Gambling can be fun for millions of people but if you have the propensity to overdo it the easy access makes online gambling a real problem for some people."
Credit Cards:Like the lamb to the slaughter

Fancy a flutter?
Of course there are those gamblers who enjoy a flutter without encountering the darker side of the addiction that can drive people to self-destruction.
Rachelle Nashner, 23, an American who works for the media industry in London, looks to online gambling as a substitute for a night out in a West End casino. While there are no lounge singers or showgirls, the thrill of gaming is excitement enough to inspire her to return to the online tables two or three times a week to stake her hard-earned cash.

"While no online gambling site can truly substitute for the live casino experience, I must say that they still represent a wonderful opportunity to have fun. It's not always so easy to have a flutter in the States.
"Sometimes the risk of gambling a few pounds here and there really pays off. Even when it doesn't, I'm left feeling that it has been a worthwhile experience, which just has to be a good thing."

The stakes are high
It doesn't always stop at a few pounds though, and gambling can soon become an obsession for some people. Computeractive reader John Gibson, 60, from County Antrim in Northern Ireland knows from his work in the community the dangers of addiction and the highs and lows that drive punters on the road to ruin.
"As someone who knows the destructive power of any addiction, be it alcohol, web surfing or betting, I'm not keen on the boom in gambling.
The National Lottery brought out the worst in many people when it started a few years ago. It's easy to play and offers the chance to win huge amounts of money for a small stake. People seem to forget the fact that the odds are astronomical and pin all their hopes on getting lucky.
It seems to me that gambling on the internet has the potential to reach just as many people, including children, as the lottery does. The important difference is in the cost - how far will people go before they end up in serious debt?"

Just a few pounds?
Most of us have no problem with gambling a few pounds here and there - we either do it or we don't and it's just a bit of fun. However, there are people for whom gambling can become an obsession.
As Gamblers Anonymous likes to say - just like Alcoholics Anonymous - an addiction is no different from a disease. Luckily, it isn't a disease that afflicts everyone, just a small minority. That minority is the group which is most at risk from the proliferation of opportunities to gamble,whether they are on the internet or not.

How safe is it?
In all forms of financial transaction on the web, the security issue has been a major impediment to progress. It seems that many people are concerned about losing money through lack of privacy in online card purchases.
As with many things in life, if you observe standard precautions and use common sense, credit card use online should be safe. Don't reply to unsolicited emails asking for your card details for confirmation purposes and don't give out your details to any site you are unsure of - if it looks unprofessional, it probably is.

All bets are off?
The easy access to online casinos and betting sites has to be a cause for concern. Already, in the US bets that have been placed by minors using parents' credit cards have been the subject of litigation, casting serious doubt on the viability of the entire internet-based casino industry.
In the UK, Jonathan Raab of BETonline says: "We are keen to keep it as clean as possible and we always telephone anyone who opens a new account to confirm their identity."
On the international legal front, the most ludicrous case comes from California, where a woman who burned her fingers in e-casinos to the tune of $70,000 is refusing to pay up. Since gambling is illegal in the state, she claims Visa and Mastercard have aided and abetted her in committing a crime then shared the filthy lucre with the casinos.


To give an idea of what to expect when you try your hand at online gambling we liberated a few moths from the Computeractive wallet and headed for the online bookie. In this example we've used BETonline ( as it is UK-based and one of the more professional sites on the web. You can expect to find fairly similar procedures at most sites should you choose to place a wager or two, but remember - you might just lose your shirt.

Step1: You find someone to love

STEP 1 On first arriving at the site you need to and open an account. BETonline accepts all major debit but not credit cards - fill in your details and click to accept its terms and conditions.

Step2: They fall in love with you

STEP 2 Once you've registered, log in and peruse the list of sports and other events. When you find what you'd like to stake a few quid on, just click on it to find out more. In this case, we've gone for a wager on the next permanent England football manager.

STEP 3 The list of Contenders holds a few surprises- we've decided to go for the people's favourites.

Step3: You kiss and hold them tightly

STEP 4 That's it - £25 on the Teletubbies to become the next England manager. At 10,000/1 we can't wait for Kevin Keegan to get back to Fulham.

Step4 : They nick your dosh and disappear into the night

She is currently pursuing the credit companies in the courts in an attempt to cancel out her losses.
If you strike it lucky, payouts from the gaming sites are usually made as credits to your registered card, although some sites, such as River Belle, will pay by cheque or bank transfer if asked beforehand. Most reserve the right to make a small charge on withdrawals.
Another pressing issue for online gamblers is fairness - are the dice loaded in the casino's favour or is everything above board? The odds for blackjack or roulette, for instance, are exactly the same in an internet casino as in the real thing. The outcome depends on random number generators, which although never truly random do approximate the caprice of a real spin of the wheel.

[Note: The real roulette wheel is loaded in the bank's favour to start with by virtue of the green zero.This means that in the long run you will lose,no matter how many wins you gain.Pseudo random numbers are usually based on modular arithmetic using prime numbers or some algorithmic sequence which may be "seeded" with and arbitrary number.This can only ever approximate true randomness.Statistical tests can reveal how random a sequence is.However one should not be fooled,whether real or pseudo you are being duped and conned when playing roulette.It is never "fair and above board" Ref: Davis and Hersh "The Mathematical Experience" {The Coin of Tyche} -LB]


As we all know, the UK authorities are a little more permissive of gambling than those in the US - after all, most high streets in the country have at least one 'Turf Accountant'. Companies such as BETonline ( operate entirely within the law and have no need to exploit loopholes. However, William Hill is one of the UK companies that operates from an offshore base for tax reasons.

They shoot horses don't they?

The country's second largest bookmaker ( has set up an 'International Division' on the Isle of Man to allow punters to escape the tax usually levied on either stakes or winnings. There is a drawback-the company says: "To bet online and qualify for betting 'Tax Free', you - must be a non-UK resident."

Another similar site can be found at - a company whose parent has recently been the subject of a share offer.

Charlie Hungerford's Refuge
Some net bookies,like William Hill, don't cater to UK residents

A seemingly endless variety of bets are available, from each ways to parlays and teasers. This is one domestic site that is legally open to UK residents. Ladbrokes - the country's biggest bookie - has a substantial website (, which goes into great detail on all the company's betting products, but doesn't yet offer the opportunity to gamble online. There are also numerous adverts for telephone betting services and explanations of the different kinds of bet and a beginner's guide to gambling.


Is your lack of future in the cards?We took a stroll down the virtual strip by going to an internet search engine ( in this case) and heading for the gambling subsection of the entertainment classification. One of the first sites we logged on to was World Gaming (, which offers the opportunity to lose money in seven languages other than English. As with many gambling sites, the first task is to download the software necessary to run the games on your PC. The hefty 5Mb file could take up to half an hour to download, depending on the time of day and speed of your modem. Installing is a simple matter of clicking on the file and answering a few questions. World Gaming is one of the few e-casinos to give the option of playing for fun as well as for hard cash - useful if you want to get a feel for the games before committing your readies.
When registering for a real gamble we discovered that the company behind World Gaming is based in Antigua in the West Indies. This is a common tactic for US online casinos, since gambling is illegal in most states.

Have fun,don't waste money
Play for fun as well as cash at World Gaming

The theory is that by taking advantage of grey areas in laws that pre-date the internet, e-casinos can reach gamblers across both the US and the globe.

Of the other sites we tried, the River Belle ( has a nifty hook. It claims to be the first online riverboat casino to set sail on the waters of the internet. The site certainly sticks to the nautical theme throughout and even has a picture of a recent pleasure cruiser who took home almost $83,000.
Home Casino ( is one of the strangest sites on the web, hosting various games, including virtual scratch cards. The owners thoughtfully say: "It is not necessary to cash in your winnings at the end of every session. You are welcome to leave a balance in your account for your next visit to the casino." How very generous of them.
Although playing the stock market isn't exactly the same as a spin of the roulette wheel or a game of craps, the experience on offer at The Great Game ( isn't all that different from a casino. The site runs an investment game based on buying and managing a portfolio of shares on the London market. It is free to enter and offers regular small prizes as an incentive.

The Ship of Fools
Place your bets aboard the River Belle net casino boat

With slot machines and video poker the payout percentages are determined by the casino, and many will post their payout figures online. When a punter hits the jackpot the casinos are rarely shy of publicity and most love to splash images of happy winners across the website.
The US Senate has already voted to ban all net gambling, although quite how it intends to enforce any ensuing legislation on non-US companies remains to be seen. US Attorney General, Janet Reno, says:
"To internet betting operators everywhere we have a simple message - you can't hide online and - you can't hide off-shore.
Amid the web of uncertainty, one thing is clear - net gambling is here today, and probably - tomorrow, but the day after? Probably. However, it surely can't be long before we see the issue of law enforcement and policing of the net raise its head in this country.

J Mark Lytle

Computer Active 25 Mar 1999 File Info: Created 19/7/2000 Updated 19/12/2002 Page Address: