Playing poker on the deck of the Titanic


Titanic

April 15th, Ninety-nine years after the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank another iceberg has surfaced that may threaten the latest man-made creation said to be the future of its kind, largest ever built and a symbol for man’s genius.

It may be a stretch to compare the Internet with the Titanic, but they do have some things in common.  Each represents the latest application of science, technology and trends in human behavior.   Each was (is) thought in its time to represent a complete paradigm shift.  And each appeared (appears) in its context to be indestructible.  Of course by the 16th of April, 1912 the world knew the Titanic was indeed destructible and very vulnerable to things it could not even see.

The Internet certainly is an agent of change, it has made a major shift in the way we live our lives, it is affecting every facet of our lives from the way we make purchases, access information, communicate and entertain ourselves.  In each of those areas the Internet is the Titanic – the largest, most modern of its kind and the way all things will be done in the future.  In retail, the Internet is the world’s market place, millions of buyers walk up and down the isles, listening to the vendors calling out the merits of their wares and bargaining for the best price.

In the case of information, it is the world’s library; everything bit of information is there, just a click away, waiting for you to enter your search terms and follow the links to the latest knowledge on any subject.    In communication we have the social network sites, email and skype all at our service whenever we want to pass on the minutiae of our lives to our friends and family and even look their smiling faces while we talk.  In entertainment all of the options of television, movies, radio, youtube and your local casino make it possible to just sit in front of  a computer and experience all of the entertainment that your parents had to travel for miles and pay a fee to experience.

The reason that the Internet is so dominating is simple – numbers.  Facebook currently has something approaching a half of a billion people, 1 our 14 people on the planet as members.  The number of people with access to the internet is even higher, probably at least 1 out of every 4 people on earth.  So, if you are a bookseller, for example, you can put your books into the world’s market place, online and have a potential customer base of nearly 2 billion people.  If you lived in Reno, your potential customer base is probably about 300,000 – not much comparison.

Well, those numbers apply to every business, including gambling and casinos.  Those two billion people walking along the streets of the biggest city in the world, the cyber-city “Internet” are all potential gamblers in your online casino.  As everyone knows, Internet gambling is illegal in the United States; however there is a bill in Congress to legalize Internet gambling and a number of states have legislation to legalize some form of Internet gambling.  Until this anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic we seemed to be just sailing along into a brand new world of gambling at home, conveniently sitting at our computers – all we needed to do was wait until our luxury liner docked at the port of legalization. Tolerating gambling across state-lines, however, has never been part of the federal government’s legal strategy – not now and not any time in the last 100 years.

The federal government has taken the position it is illegal to gamble online for Americans and has been aggressive in making that point.  For the online casinos it is not an American issue, all of the online gambling sites have a physical presence and license to operate in other countries.  The United States does not dispute that, it merely maintains Americans cannot gamble on those sites from within the limits of this country.   The U. S. has pressured all banks and credit card companies into refusing any Internet gambling transactions; it has also prosecuted several individual officers of Internet gambling companies if they could catch them in the country.  Under the pressure, the Internet companies retreated outside of the reach of federal authorities.  However, as a business model that was not easy to do – the majority of money wagered and the majority of the gamblers wanting to make a bet online live in the United States.   The online gaming companies have restructured and worked to expand their reach into legal player bases in other countries; or so they have claimed.  That has been the status of events for about two years.  In that time there has been little action on the law enforcement side, all of the action has been in the legislature as bills to legalize the activity have been introduced and debated.

Today, the dynamic changed dramatically when the United States Attorney’s office brought criminal charges against three major companies and their chief officers.  They are accused of fraud, business methods intended to circumvent federal and deceive banks and credit card companies, they are also accused of money laundering and the feds are seeking $3 billion in forfeitures and penalties.  The law may be changed in Congress at some point in the future, but in the meantime the government has opened a new chapter in the war between the federal officials and gamblers – it is an old war, the first shot early in the 20th century.  It seems there are other icebergs below the waterline; the passengers may escape in lifeboats, but if the precedent of history holds true, the band and captain just might go down with the Titanic.

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