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A Closer Look:

Lawrence Lloyd's personal foray into online gambling

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     “That’s how I spend my money. She likes to spend it on clothes, accessories, makeup and furniture,” Serge countered. “I buy clothes and I wear them until they’re junk. I buy one pair of shoes and they last me a year or two. So instead of that, I just use that as my [gambling] budget.”

      Shirvanian started gambling like many Americans – he went to Vegas when he was 21. For awhile he used bookies but didn’t like paying them “the juice” – the bookie’s fee for taking bets. In 1996, a friend told him about an internet casino he’d discovered, and Serge has been a customer of one casino or another ever since.

The Industry

     There are many people like Shirvanian – the 30-something recreational gambler – and the phenomenon is quickly gaining even younger people. In a survey of 900 people between the ages of 14 and 22, there was a 20 percent increase in monthly card gambling from 2004 to 2005, according a study last year by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

      The study also found that there are almost 3 million people between the ages of 14 and 22, overwhelmingly male, who gamble on card games on a weekly basis. Researchers found that “card playing may also be spilling over to increased use of Internet gambling sites.” In fact, the young card-playing boys, especially those who were in high school or college, were more likely than other gamblers to use online casinos. The center estimates that almost 600,000 young people gamble online each week.

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Except for the free drinks, online casinos offer many of the same features you’d find in a
Las Vegas venue.
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     Internet casinos have multiplied exponentially from their humble beginnings in the mid to late 90s. When the Pennsylvania-based Off Shore Gaming Association started tracking online gambling enterprises in 1998, there was only “a handful – less than 100 operators total,” according to president Jim Quinn. Now there are 2,500. The larger internet casinos, like sportsbook.com, boast upwards of 100,000 members, with 85 percent estimated to be American.

      Except for the free drinks, internet casinos offer many of the features you would find in a Las Vegas venue. People can purchase virtual chips and bet on a variety of traditional table games, including blackjack and the ever-popular poker, or they can bet on sports, from tennis to boxing to baseball and other major sports. Not only can they bet on who will win, but with many sports, people can also wager on how many points will be scored by halftime or total, the margin of victory for the winning team and who will score first, among other things.
      
      Gambling has been sliced and diced into the smallest palatable parts.

       The year’s biggest draw so far is the Super Bowl. While tens of thousands flocked to the Detroit area for Super Bowl XL featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks and bolstered the area’s economy by almost $240 million, the OSGA reports that more than $600 million was bet online on the big game. And other landmark sporting events also boost the cash flow, like college basketball’s March Madness, the NBA finals, the World Series and the college football bowl games.

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Super Bowl XL is online gambling’s biggest haul to date: More than $600 million was wagered on the Pittsburgh-Seattle contest.

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       Quinn believes there are a few reasons for the increasing popularity of online gambling. First, the companies offering these services are legitimate and self-policing organizations worth billions of dollars; and several of them, like SportingBet, PLC (which owns the popular sportsbook.com) are even traded on the London Stock Exchange. The Off Shore Gaming Association plays watchdog over the online sportsbook industry and has an extensive list of “endorsed” casinos. It also has a gaming blacklist – casinos that have had complaints of slow payouts or sometimes not paying out at all.

     Most importantly, there’s access. An amateur who only entertained thoughts of becoming a poker king can now learn and practice from his bedroom. A report from eMarketer, a New York-based research firm, indicates that more than 60 percent of the 2005 World Series of Poker participants qualified through internet casinos. The tournament, held annually in Las Vegas, shows that online gambling doesn’t really hurt the Las Vegas casinos; it may actually complement them.

 

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