We want to be legitimate, say online casinos

The shadowy world of online gambling wants to go legit, and the world’s virtual casino barons have come to Montreal to help make it happen.

The sixth Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo that kicked off yesterday at Palais des congres is making self-regulation its theme.

The goal: regulate this USD 12-billion (U.S.) market before politicians do.

„We’re not in this to make a quick buck,“ said Roger Raatgever, chief executive of Microgaming, a leading gambling software developer in the Isle of Man. „We want this to be a sustainable, credible industry.“

Thousands of online casinos operate in a legal limbo – running websites in island havens but marketing to countries where it’s outlawed.

GoldenPalace.com, better known for its publicity stunts, is hosted across the Mercier Bridge in Kahnawake, today a major online gambling jurisdiction.

The reserve declares itself a sovereign territory, and therefore immune from Canadian laws.

Gambling critic Sol Soxenbaum says the Kahnawake grey zone is one reason the convention is held here.

„If it was held in the U.S. the FBI would round them all up and arrest them,“ said the president of Viva Consulting, a lobby group for problem gamblers. „If we can have a conference in Canada where online gambling is illegal, that sends a very strong message about our values.“

Police authorities have claimed for years to be investigating the casino server farms in Kahnawake, but have taken no action.

„They just don’t have the desire to have another confrontation,“ Soxenbaum said.

Governments elsewhere have been poring over ways to stop online gambling, claiming it’s rife with credit-card fraud and underage betting.

Industry-appointed watchdogs, like eCOGRA, already exist to ensure online casinos are trustworthy and accountable.

Raatgever said this self-regulating trend can both stem government encroachment and build a strong industry reputation by shedding light on its nature.

„This is an incredibly complex business,“ Raatgever said. „You have e-commerce, cross-border issues and gaming all rolled into one.“

Online gambling is expected to double by 2010. The industry sees it as a matter of time until governments give in and accept online gambling as a reality. Britain has, Raatgever said, and is set to legalize gambling next year.

The American Gaming Association, a casino trade lobby, called for a study to see if online gambling can be legalized and regulated for that country’s estimated 8 million online gamblers.

Canada has no shortage of government-run sites where people can place bets. In British Columbia, Soxenbaum said, shoppers at drugstores and supermarkets can play keno every five minutes.

„Our government is addicted to revenue and an addict never cares about the consequences,“ he said.