Online Pirates of the Caribbean

Three San Francisco men found riches in Antiqua with their Internet gambling site. Now they're federal fugitives. Caribbean

But Kyl kept up interest in his anti-gambling campaign, spicing up the debate with catchy soundbites. He warned that children would "wager with Mom's credit card, click the mouse, and bet the house." Internet gambling, he says, could become as addictive as "hard-core crack cocaine." Kyl has collected an unlikely group of supporters, from the Christian Coalition to Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, America Online, the New Jersey casino industry, and professional organizations of the same sports that are the subject of betting.

Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte has introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives, co-sponsored by politicians representing the casino-rich state of Nevada, and he has also learned the value of an effective soundbite. According to Goodlatte, his Prohibition Act "will keep children from borrowing the family credit card, logging on to the family computer, and losing thousands of dollars all before their parents get home from work."

On Nov. 4 of this year, the Senate finally approved the modified Kyl bill. The Goodlatte bill is still kicking around Capitol Hill. The Clinton administration is rumored to be considering a bill of its own. According to a Goodlatte aide, none of these bills is expected to reach a vote until at least the end of January.

Michael Miller
Haden Ware (right) and his brother take in the scenery of Antigua.
Courtesy of Haden Ware
Haden Ware (right) and his brother take in the scenery of Antigua.

Details

RELATED LINKS

World Sports Exchange
wsex.com: Visa and Mastercard accepted

World Sports Exchange gambling license
Certificate authorizing the establishment and operation of business in the Antigua and Barbuda free trade and processing zone.

Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 1999
The full text of Sen. John Kyl's anti-gambling legislation

Gamblers Anonymous
The front page of wsex.com refers people with gambling problems to GA.


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If any of the three make it into law, there will still be the momentous problem of enforcement, especially with over 700 sites around the world, most of them based in gambling-friendly countries.

"The new bills have taken out criminal provisions," says Sue Schneider. "The worst now is that they take away your ISP account. But as someone pointed out, there are 6,000 ISPs in the country."

But repercussions are already spreading throughout the gambling world.

Ron Pereira operates thesportsdaily.com Web site out of his apartment in North Beach. He doesn't offer gambling himself, but he links to other sites that do. Despite the attention cast upon online gambling for the moment, he sees room for both Internet sites and phone bookies.

"People are always gonna want to make a phone call. The runner, the delivery once a week. It's a tradition," he says. "It takes time to develop your own bookies, a certain rite of passage to get your own bookie. Get your own system set up, with a runner. You can then say you have your guy, your very own bookie. It makes it special.

"With the Internet, there's nothing stopping them. If [the Kyl bill] doesn't get passed next year, these things are gonna be so big. You start getting into the tens of thousands of customers. At some point, when the mass gets to be millions of people, that's when Vegas will have to jump in. They can't ban it at that point."

To some other nations, the race to regulate online gaming is another example of American arrogance. The Internet doesn't belong to the U.S. It doesn't belong to anybody. Many foreign-owned sites actually hope such a law will pass, so it will increase their betting traffic, up to 90 percent of which is from the U.S. Schneider travels frequently to gambling conferences in other countries, and the rest of the world's reaction to U.S. policing of the Internet is not lost on her.

"The term that comes to mind most is 'arrogant.' It's embarrassing," she says. Like many of their peers, the founders of World Sports Exchange believe it's time for some form of industry regulation. But they still believe they aren't doing anything illegal.

"It's a matter of your interpretation of the law," says Haden Ware. "Our interpretation is that the bet takes place down here. It's account wagering. They're taking a virtual visit to Antigua."

In the meantime, the validity of the Wire Act charges remains the greatest threat to World Sports Exchange and its owners. Schillinger expects Cohen will be cleared at trial, but adds that even if he is found guilty, World Sports Exchange will keep operating.

"What I find so funny, all these people who are talking about how evil gambling is, all their states run the state lottery, which is a complete rip-off," says Schillinger. "Here, we hold 5 percent of what people bet. In the lottery, they hold probably in excess of 50 percent. You have poor people in California betting their paychecks, buying lottery tickets. How can they act like that's fine, to take all those people's money without a fair chance for them to win, and they act like what we're doing is evil?"


For Haden Ware and Steve Schillinger, life on Antigua isn't necessarily the Shangri-La travel brochures would lead you to believe, but it's close. The two play a lot of golf, often with other sports bookies. Friends occasionally come down to visit. The two men stay in contact with Cohen and their attorneys back in the U.S. They used to tool around on their 29-foot boat, named Ahead of Schedule, until it was totaled by tropical storms. Apart from a golf shot or a few games of blackjack, both say they don't gamble much.

Ware says he passes the time hanging out in the sun, and posting photos of his girlfriend on his personal Web site. As a fugitive, he couldn't attend his brother's recent wedding in the States, but the best man tucked a cell phone in his pocket so Ware could listen to the ceremony.

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