April 24, 2013

The gambling is virtual; the money is real

My View – Jan Zacharias

Editor’s note: This is the third of four columns.

These days, all you need to gamble on the Internet is a computer and a credit card or the ability to transfer money into an online payment processor such as NETeller. While the gambling may be virtual, the money is real.

You don’t have to leave your house or even get out of your pajamas to gamble. You can do so in the privacy of your home, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You don’t really even have to be 18-plus years of age to do this.

So what are the risks associated with gambling on the Internet? As discussed in previous articles, gambling on the Internet is banned in Canada and therefore is not regulated; no one is making sure of the integrity of the games. This fact leaves open many ways in which a player can experience fraud while gambling on the Internet.

First of all, you don’t know who determines the odds of winning on the site. Even if the odds of winning are posted, there is no guarantee that they are accurate. Also, the site operators can change the odds of winning with a keystroke, allowing for more players to win more at first as new customers, and then gradually over time, begin losing.

New players could go through a honeymoon period while they are getting hooked and then enter into a losing period.

You also don’t know who you are playing against. You could in a poker hand with what you assume are four other players but in reality is only one player with four different accounts. Or the other four players could be sitting in the same room, sharing their hands with one another in order to have an advantage over you. You could even be playing against a computer program. These programs are designed to gamble for you; after you install them on your computer you can even go to work. All they need is information of your accepted levels of risk and the amount of money to be wagered.

There is no guarantee that if you actually win money on these sites that it will be transferred into your bank or credit card account. Some players report trying to contact companies to ask why their winnings have not been transferred, only to find that a company has gone out of business. When they contact the RCMP with their complaints, they are told that there is nothing that can be gone since these companies exist outside of Canadian jurisdiction.

As mentioned before, these sites are easy for underage players to access. Since kids don’t often have access to the kinds of funds necessary to sustain this type of play, they often engage in theft, usually of a parent’s credit card, in order to support this activity. Headlines such as “Son lost $63,000 gambling with dad’s money,” and “Online gambling snagging children as young as nine,” or “Internet gambling at colleges verging on crisis,” have become commonplace.

And it is not only kids who are involved in theft to gamble. A recent story out of Britain features a bookkeeper who took more than $1,830,000 from his construction firm in order to fuel his online addiction.

Many unregulated Internet gambling sites collect information on your play habits, account information and other person information such as your name, date of birth, address, gender, phone number and playing patterns. This allows companies to sell your personal information and market games specifically to you to get your business. They can sell this information as well to companies that might offer similar products. These companies may know more about your playing habits than even you know about yourself. All of this puts your privacy at risk.

The other fact that you should be aware of involves the potential for the money you wager to be used to support criminal activity. Internet gambling is particularly susceptible to money laundering by criminals and even terrorists. You should also be aware that as police agencies and prosecutors review investigations into these illegal gaming sites, you may be subject to an investigation where charges might be laid. Laws are vague in these issues and in the process of being refined.

In the next and final part of this series, I will explore the unique risks for addiction associated with gambling online. I will also give the reader some general tips for online gambling in order that it remains safe.

Published on 09/15/2006