US gambling bill threatens casino

The game may soon be up for Christchurch Casino’s six year-old online gambling division, after the US Senate approved a bill designed to prevent credit card companies from processing payments to internet gambling websites.

Online gambling websites would also be prohibited from accepting US payments, under the bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Bush.

Christchurch Casino runs a suite of online gaming sites from Bermuda, including kiwicasiNocom, through wholly-owned subsidiary Christchurch Casino E-Gaming Investments.

Kiwicasino is already forbidden from accepting bets from New Zealanders and its promotional material suggests the majority of its customers reside in the US.

Six out of seven online testimonials on its site are from US residents, as are the last five „winners“ of promotional competitions listed on its website.

„Kiwi, you guys rock, as someone said before, ‚Real people do win!‘ and they really, really do at Kiwi. Thanks guys!“, reads an endorsement from a gambler identified as „Dawn from California“, who won a DVD recorder in a recent Kiwicasino promotion.

Online gambling operators are reportedly looking hard for loopholes in the US bill, with some prospect of success.

However, the task of identifying whether punters are Americans or using US-issued credit cards and the uncertain risk of prosecution pose a huge challenge for Internet gambling sites, which have been mauled by investors in the wake of the gambling bill.

The US Embassy in Wellington says it is unable to say whether Christchurch Casino board members already risk prosecution under the 1963 Wire Act if they visit the US.

US authorities detained two high-profile online gaming executives earlier this year, using the legislation, which pre-dates the internet, to claim it was already illegal to engage in „commercial gambling across state and international borders“. One has since been released.

An embassy spokesman says indictments are not necessarily made public, so it would not be possible to say in advance whether Christchurch Casino board members risked being caught up in the clampdown.

Christchurch Casino acting chief executive Steve Lyttleton could not be reached for comment.