US investigates Second Life gambling

US authorities are investigating gambling in the virtual reality world of Second Life. The FBI has reportedly examined casinos that operate in the game following a month-long crackdown on internet gambling.

"We have invited the FBI several times to take a look around in Second Life and raise any concerns they would like, and we know of at least one instance that federal agents did look around in a virtual casino," Linden Lab's vice president Ginsu Yoon told the Reuters news agency. Linden Lab operates the phenomenally successful online service.

There are hundreds of casinos operating in Second Life, but Linden Lab said that it had not received clear guidance on gambling within the game.

Second Life has its own currency, the Linden Dollar, 250 of which are worth just one dollar.

The US Department of Justice has been operating a crackdown on internet gambling. It used a 1961 Act outlawing inter-state telephone betting whose application to online gambling was disputed until last autumn when a new anti-gambling law was passed.

After attempts at passing anti-online gambling laws were opposed in the Senate the US administration added the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act to an existing ports security bill which was certain to be passed. The law was passed just before the end of the Congressional session before mid-term elections.

Linden Lab's Yoon said that he believed that the case against Second Life gambling was not cut and dried. "It's not always clear to us whether a 3-D simulation of a casino is the same thing as a casino, legally speaking, and it's not clear to the law enforcement authorities we have asked," Yoon said.

US law enforcement agencies scored a notable success earlier this week when they arrested Gary Kaplan, the founder of UK-based online betting firm BetOnSports. Kaplan had long been wanted on racketeering charges and is also likely to face prosecution under the new gambling law.

The US received a rebuke this week for its gambling laws, though, when the World Trade Organisation ruled that its laws were anti-competitive because they treated US companies differently to ones based offshore.