Hedging their bets: some students continue online gambling after federal legislation

A new law limiting online gambling has caused some students to cash out for good, while others continue to place their bets.

The law that President George W. Bush signed Oct. 13 forbids financial institutions such as banks and credit card companies from transferring money to online gambling sites. The legislation was added to the Safe Port Act, a bill intended to strengthen American port defense.

Since the law was signed, several major online gambling sites have already closed their doors to U.S. customers and others prepare to do so in the near future. These financial institutions will not be forced to comply with the new law until the Department of the Treasury drafts final regulations sometime during the next nine months.

The changes have left many students hesitant to put more of their money into gambling Web sites for fear that they will not see it again.

“It’s not safe anymore to put a lot of money into a poker site because you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to pull it out,” said Sam Miller, a junior who still plays poker online.

“There’s always a chance that because of the legislation, the company gets scared and shuts down completely,” he said.

On the subject of illegality, Miller added that online gambling is “illegal now like it’s illegal to download music off the Internet. It’s virtually ‘un-police-able.'”

Nick Weiss, a freshman who gambles online, said that many student gamblers do not fully understand how the new law will affect them.

“Most people are very confused and they don’t know what’s going on,” said Weiss, who recently wagered money on the mid-term elections through tradesports.com.

Weiss said he usually puts his money online through the site netteller.com, an offshore money transfer company that allows U.S. residents to wire money indirectly to gambling sites. Netteller’s stock recently dropped by 70 percent and Weiss was unsure whether he would be able to continue using the site.

Although individual online gamblers are not currently targeted in the new law, a U.S. government official told The Hatchet Tuesday that online gamblers are in violation of the Wire Act of 1961 regardless of the new online gambling law.

Originally created to prohibit placing bets between states over phone lines, lines, the Department of Justice recently used the Wire Act to arrest BetOnSports CEO David Carruthers. The injunction against Carruthers stated that “Internet gambling involving interstate or international wire transmissions is not legal anywhere in the United States, except as explicitly authorized by statute.”

Individual gamblers have not yet been targeted by government investigations, however.

Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said the recent legislation is not going to solve the gambling problem in the United States.

“I think it’s going to have a big impact on casual gamblers,” Whyte said. “But heavy gamblers and problem gamblers will likely be able to find ways around it.”

Whyte added that universities should do more to inform students about the dangers of online gambling through prevention programs.

“We think (prevention programs) are going to be a lot more effective than trying to ban people from gambling,” Whyte said.

Director of Media Relations Tracy Schario wrote in an e-mail that the University would consider offering more education about online safety, but added that gambling is not currently banned on campus.

“The Student Code of Conduct itself does not refer to Internet gambling,” Schario said in an e-mail, “but a student could be charged with a regulation violation … under the Code if he or she used university computers or networks to conduct illegal activity.”

Freshman Adam Kott said he feels the University is right not to interfere with online gambling because students are able to monitor their own actions.

“I think most people can control how much they play,” said Kott, who recently quit playing online poker because he said he was winning and losing large amounts of money too quickly.

One student gambler, Devin, who requested anonymity for fear of incriminating himself, said that he decided to stop gambling heavily until the sites have made their final decisions.

“I’m just seeing where the laws go and what actually happens before I go back (online),” said Devin, who played poker online about five times a week before the law.

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