Cyber Stakes

South Florida is at the heart of the Internet gambling boom -- and of the war to stop it

Iamuno's software is also used in Antigua. Gyneth McAllister, age 37, the Antigua government liaison to the offshore betting industry, insists that her government closely monitors software used by the Sports Exchange and other gambling sites. All prospective operators must give the government a copy of their software as well as the programmer's name. Regulators test the software periodically to ensure it has not been altered, McAllister notes. All prospective Website owners are also vetted by Interpol, she says.

Antigua has been wracked by political and criminal scandals in recent years, including U.S. charges that Antiguan officials helped secure arms for Colombian drug dealers. But Baldwin, the Gainesville professor, says Caribbean countries are attempting to keep their industry honest. "They could use more help from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom," he says, "but they are trying."

Accusations of corruption rile McAllister. "The United States has always pictured the people of the islands as poor, and they imply that hand in hand with poverty goes corruption," she complains. "That isn't so. More money is laundered in Miami in a single day than we could ever launder here. We would rather have good relations with the United States. If they want a piece in tax like the Australians, we can give them their cut."

Propped in a chair before his computer in Boca Raton, Shabber hopes Internet gambling remains available. He's trying a new game on the Web called Planet Poker that allows people from around the world to gamble and chat. Several players are gathered around the virtual table. All use nicknames. They include Johnny from San Antonio, Ismos from Istanbul, El Cid from Philadelphia, and Kingduey from Pembroke Pines. Shabber has also discovered that some virtual casinos now offer "comps," as in Las Vegas: Subscribers are awarded points that can be cashed in at a virtual mall for gifts.

"This is incredible," Shabber says. "This is changing every day. I don't see how they are going to control it. It's cool, it's very cool," he says, pushing another ten dollars into cyberspace.

There are at least 155 gambling Websites on the Internet. Some offer casino games, others provide sports betting, still others have both.

Among them:
Planet Poker (planetpoker.com): At a poker table are players from all over the globe -- Hong Kong, Katmandu, Kendall -- and you can chat with them on-screen during the game. The ultimate virtual poker experience for a wannabe traveler.

Intercasino (intercasino.com): If you want Monte Carlo without leaving home, sign on here. It offers casino games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat, and slots. And the sounds are good. Roulette balls rattle, dice tumble, and lounge music sounds. You can also bet on sports.

Happywin (happywin.com): This Ireland-based site is designed for the polyglot. You can play in English, French, or Dutch.

Gamesville (gamesville.com): This site features the Bingo Zone. Just completing vertical or diagonal lines won't do; winning numbers must form complicated shapes such as arrows and sevens. The site promises big payoffs.

Grand Dominican (granddominican.com): Located in the Dominican Republic, this site advertises a high rate of return for slot machine players. It is also one of several sites that award points redeemable for prizes.

The World Sports Exchange (wsex.com): This one's for the sports junkie. Not only does it accept bets on just about every sporting event, it offers the chance to bet on plays during a game.

-- John Lantigua

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