Second Life Casino Owner Left Scrambling After Gambling Ban

The Second Life entrepreneur complains that Linden Lab was happy to take his money for months after the U.S. banned Internet gambling. And then Linden Lab shut the casinos down abruptly Wednesday.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

July 26, 2007

4 Min Read

Like many other casino owners in Second Life, Anthony Smith was struggling on Thursday to figure out what future, if any, he had on the 3-D social network.

Linden Lab, which develops and operates Second Life, announced a ban on gambling Wednesday. Until then, gambling had been one of the most popular activities in Second Life.

Smith, of Brighton, U.K., feels Linden Lab dealt with him unfairly. He notes that U.S. law banning Internet gambling went into effect in October.

"If this law was made in October, 2006, I think it is wrong of Linden Lab to take my money," said Smith, a mortgage broker in real life. He noted that the name of the business -- Casino World -- made it obvious what kind of business he was running.

Smith, 34, who goes by the name "Anthonymark Alcott" in Second Life, operates a full server on Second Life -- known in SL jargon as a "sim."

We interviewed Smith in-world Thursday. He teleported in with his avatar still wearing signs and a mask from a protest that he'd been attending immediately prior to the interview.

He said he spent 1 million Linden Dollars -- about US$3,800 -- on the sim and virtual gambling equipment and furnishings, since launching in February.

And that's not counting staff or his own sweat equity -- he said he's been working 12-14 hours per day on building Casino World. He said he invested all revenues from the clubs back into the business, to pay for new equipment and entertainment.

Smith had planned, starting next month, to buy one sim per month and lease it out for residential and commercial business. But those plans are on hold.

"This will be the start of the end for Second Life, just as the U.S. government wants," Smith said in an interview conducted over text IM. We edited his comments lightly for language and spelling.

He said he believes the U.S. government is threatened by Second Life, because they can't control SL or tax it. Also, he said, real-life casinos want Internet gambling shut down to avoid competition.

"They grease the US government's hand," he said. "For a country where you are supposed to be free, it sure is a contradiction."

Shutting down gambling will stop Second Life growth, because gambling represents a significant portion of Second Life transactions, Smith said.

He also said he believes Linden Lab's abrupt implementation of the new policy is unfair.

"I do not know if I trust Linden Lab anymore to work with," he said. "The way they do business is not good. They change their policy and advise if you don't comply immediately, you get all your assets frozen, or even worse, dissolved. Any other company in the world who treated their clients like this would not last long."

The gambling decision is the latest in a series of steps Linden Lab has taken to crack down on adult entertainment in Second Life, driven, at least in part, by the law in the nations in which it operates.

In May, Linden Lab banned erotic "ageplay" -- depictions of sexual activity involving children in Second Life -- following an investigation by German authorities.. Shortly afterwards, Linden Lab announced plans to institute age verification to keep minors out of adult activities. The company said it planned to launch age verification in May, but the system still hasn't gone into effect.

Linden Lab announced a ban on "grossly offensive" behavior May 31. The clumsily worded announcement bans depictions of sex acts or lewd acts apparently involving minors, rape, extreme and graphic violence, and more.

Second Life users criticized the ban as being overly vague, not giving them a clear idea in advance what would be allowed and what would be prohibited.

Attorney Benjamin Duranske blogged: "This is a poorly considered, dangerously over-broad, and annoyingly opaque policy statement."

In April, Linden Lab said it invited the FBI to inspect Second Life casinos. At around the same time, Linden Lab said it would no longer accept advertising for in-world casinos.

Smith said he sought assurance from Linden Lab, around the time of the FBI visit, that he would be allowed to remain in business. He said the company told him that it wouldn't allow promotion of casinos and gambling in Linden public channels, and that casino owners and their customers would have to decide whether their activities were legal based on local laws.

Smith is applying to Linden Lab to have three months of server maintenance fees -- called "tier" in Second Life jargon -- forgiven, because gambling was the source of revenue he used to pay the tier.

Ironically, Smith planned on Thursday to attend a job fair in Brighton where Linden Lab was recruiting possible employees. He said he decided not to go because he would feel like a hypocrite.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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